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Information Theory

As a native English speaker, I think it’s my right to coin new words. I think it’s everyone’s, actually. English’s flexibility and accommodation of new words is part of its inherent character.

On the other hand, it really helps if the new word being coined has a clear meaning. Simon, bless his heart, has contributed the following to the mother tongue: “Nokay.” Like “shalom”, which means both “hello” and “goodbye” in Hebrew, “nokay” has several meanings. These include:

  • Absolutely! Yes!
  • Sure, fine, I have no better suggestion
  • I’d rather not, but I will if you insist
  • I’d rather not, and will fight you to the death if you try to make me

You can see where this might cause some trouble.

“Nokay” has been around for a week or so. In the beginning, it was reserved for the middle meanings, and Matt and I found it a clever and cute coinage. A typical dialogue might go like this:

“Simon,” do you want to have a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner? we’d ask.


We interpreted this to mean, “I’d rather have cookies for dinner, but grilled cheese is fine. Just don’t expect me to get super excited about it.” It seemed to us that, in two syllables, “nokay” met an unmet linguistic need.

Within the last two days, however, “nokay” has also come to mean “yes!” as well as “no! no! no!”, and things have gotten heated as a result. Here’s an [abridged] dialogue from yesterday:

“Simon,” do you want to go to the park.


“All right honey, let’s walk to the car.”

“Nokay” [Simon walks to back yard] “Simon go to kitchen.”

“You want to play in the kitchen in your play house?”


[I take his hand to walk to the play house. Simon collapses in a heap of sobs.]

“Simon, what do you want to do?”

“Simon play in kitchen.”

“You want to go inside then? To the kitchen?”


“All right, honey, let’s go inside.”

[Simon collapses in a heap of sobs.]

“Simon, do you want to go inside?”


“Well, inside is up these stairs. [the deck stairs]Do you want to go up these stairs?”

“Nokay.” [I take his hand. He collapses into a heap of sobs.]

“Simon, where do you want to go?”

“Downstairs. Simon play in kitchen.”

“Well, honey, the kitchen is up these stairs, and to get to the basement, we have to go inside, too. [There is no kitchen in the basement, so I’m ignoring that for now.] Let’s go up the steps.”


[I head towards the steps. Simon collapses into a heap of sobs.]

“Simon, would you rather go to the park?”


“Okay.” [no more “honey” at this point] “Let’s walk the car.”

[Simon collapses into a heap of sobs.]

“Would you rather play here on the sidewalk?”


And on, and on, and one, for what seemed like forever. In all, a full hour of the time he had between nap and dinner was spent—or wasted, depending on your persepective—trying to figure out what he wanted to do.

At first, I was eager to blame “nokay” for our failure to communicate. But in hindsight, I think “nokay” may have summed up Simon’s feelings exactly. Is seems to me that what I witnessed was the classic tension between Simon’s desperately wanting to assert himself and make a decision and his inability to do so. If I’m correct, then “nokay” can best be defined as “I don’t know what I want, and whatever you guess will be wrong.”

Which is fine as far as information theory goes. But it’s sure not going to help me help him figure anything out!

One Response to “Information Theory”

  1. blg says:

    You think this is confusing? I have a friend with a five year old, who is struggling with his use of slang: sweet and sick and nasty are the current words of the day that Andrew is using like a homeboy.

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