Opinion | Off the Cuff

Word association and child’s play

Childhood memory games go a long way

  • By Cheryl Rao 
Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 00:00 November 3, 2012
  • Gulf News

Remember how we used to memorise facts when we were in school and college? We would try and collect mental pictures of the contents of an answer to make associations when we needed to, tote up numbers (five points for this answer, three for that), remember the first letter of the first word or the main idea of each paragraph that we had to reproduce in our answer sheets and concoct an acronym to get the brain cells buzzing.

As adults, all these little memory boosters saw us through many encounters with familiar faces where we groped around in our minds to get the names to match them with.

I like to believe that for a good number of years I was passably proficient at this, given that I was constantly feeding the spouse with the whereabouts of his friends, the names of their wives, their children, their pets, even their pet peeves. It was only when our son arrived on the scene and began to make his presence felt that confusion set in.

It started when he received his first He-Man figurine on his second birthday. This was followed by He-Man and the Masters of the Universe comics and story books. Figurines of other characters – good and bad – found their way into our home and many war situations were played out on the carpet.

One would think that all this would keep those little hands and that imaginative mind happy – but no, he had to share it with someone – and I was the only someone on call!

My participation went well until the G. I. Joe series marched into the house. These creatively named figurines were accompanied by miniscule weapons according to their specialty and a good deal of information about their proficiencies and likes and dislikes.

Our little fact-devouring human sponge had all those statistics on his fingertips – and he needed to know that I did too.

Fast thinking

There were daily quizzes (on both sets of toys) – and I began to flounder. The three-foot-nothing quizmaster would hold up a figurine and give me a couple of seconds to name it. I would use all the word associations tips I recalled from when I was young and some new ones I invented on the spot, but somehow everything would come out wrong!

So Air Tight became Vacuum, Cross Country for me was Last Ditch Stand (there were ditches in a cross country race, right?), Foot Loose was re-christened Rolling Stone (footloose and fancy free like a rolling stone?), Snout Spout was renamed Gargoyle (something to do with a spout, wasn’t it?), Stinkor became Smelly Bomb, and so on.

The next decade or so was spent in keeping up with the characters and characteristics of whichever series was his current passion. From toys we went to wrestlers (try memorising all those biceps spans), superheroes, video game releases... Questions grew more and more complex. Mere names and numbers gave way to catch phrases, theme music and much more. There was no way I could keep up. The memory ‘tricks’ that had sustained me through what I had considered was my ‘education’ obviously failed to keep me up to speed in this second round of the learning process: I was found sadly lacking!

I tried to justify those off-the-cuff answers and sometimes the quizmaster would find my thought process funny and roll on the carpet with mirth; sometimes he would not get it and would look at me quizzically waiting for a valid defence. And, by the time I explained the associations that went into my re-christening, he and I would both be convinced that my learning methods were not to be emulated!

The simple and straightforward had been made complex and convoluted – no longer child’s play!

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.

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