Impossible things before breakfast

I first published this post more than four years ago, when I began Wuppenif. Back then, I had only two readers at most, so it barely saw the light of day. It’s a special post to me, because I really love the exchange in it between my youngest son and me, but also because it still very aptly describes why I started this blog and why it came to be called Wuppenif. Youngest son is now eleven and better known to many readers here as Petkid. He is still partial to using ‘wuppenif’ or ‘wuppen’ in conversation.

Lewis Carroll gave us a wonderful idea in his oft-quoted line from Alice in Wonderland: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”, and it’s something I’d like to do more of. Our six-year old is certainly a dab hand at it, like most children are.

Just this morning on our walk to school he asked me whether it was possible for humans, with all of their intelligence and firepower, to demolish the sun. I said I didn’t think that humans were up to the task, but the truth is, he made me think. We’ve proved ourselves to be capable of the highest highs and the lowest lows, so why shouldn’t we be able to bring down the sun if we choose?

The actual fishtank in our old house, as mentioned in this post. That took me back!
The actual fishtank in the upstairs hallway of our old house, as mentioned in this post. That definitely took me back!

On the way to bed this evening, as he passed the fish tank in the hall outside his bedroom, he said what sounded like “Are sheep benevident?”

I asked him: “Do you mean are sheep benevolent?”

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“Benevolent means good and kind”, I said. “A person can be benevolent or act in a benevolent way.”

“Actually,” he said “people are kind because they keep sheep from getting too hot.”

“Because they would never be shorn otherwise?” I asked.

“Right. And then they get to be warm in the winter while their wool grows back and then we have more wool next year.”

“It’s kind of a perfect arrangement, isn’t it” I offered.

And then we were back onto that tricky word again. “But I mean benevident. Ben-ev-i-dent.”

“I thought you were mispronouncing benevolent. Do you have another word in mind?” I asked.

“Yes, ben-ev-i-dent” [for the slow mother to understand].

“Why don’t we look it up in the dictionary tomorrow” I suggested.

“Or on the computer,” he said “they should both have definitions.”


When this same youngest son was about three, he graduated from “Why?” to “Wuppenif?” which is a short-hand version of “What would happen if?” At nearly seven, wuppenif is still a big part of his conversational vocabulary, and I’m pleased that it hasn’t disappeared. In fact, it has been shortened further to just “wuppen”.  It has a certain something that the words in full just don’t possess. It’s a concept in its own right somehow.

17 thoughts on “Impossible things before breakfast

    1. I don’t think we ever did get to the bottom of it. I think he was so full of new words and meanings, but didn’t really know what to do with this word. I like to think we could use its apparent make-up to mean ‘goodness in plain sight’!

  1. Alice Miller (author) would not be surprised to hear that when I first saw/read the title of your writing I thought perhaps it was meaning what my parents said to me many times while I was a small and growing child, you are going to get a “whuppin” if – you don’t stop doing / refrain from doing such-and-such. I like the “real” meaning. As parents (1971 and following) my spouse and I have broken the “chain” of physical (corporal) abuse (practiced by my father — and Mama who used to say “wait until your father comes home” or whip us (I have two younger brothers and then five sisters, the youngest being 16 years younger than I) herself. Thanks for your story of four years, come full circle.

    1. Having read a certain amount of fiction from the American south, I was familiar with a ‘whuppin’, but thankful to say that it’s not a word that ever had any practical application in my own life! It’s very significant that you were part of the generation that largely brought an end to corporal punishment being seen as acceptable as a tool for raising children. My hat’s off to you!

  2. I have children that made up words much like yours – enough so that I understood the meaning of your blog name the first time that I read it. 🙂 One of my favourite words they came up with is “speep” (the noise we make at the cat/dog/each other when we want to get attention – it’s a pssst noise).

    1. Some years ago (circa 1990) during a month in Kibwezi, Kenya, we learned that the Kamba (language group) people make that sound (rather than shhh) to command silence. My spouse does it with a tap on Tibetan bowl (bell). Also, in Kikamba when adults address a child they say “watcha!”

  3. oh goodness in plain sight – love that!

    (I just watched a show where the owner had written that Lewis Carroll quote on the wall of their house. I think it would be perfect in the kitchen… maybe I can convince my husband.)

    such wonderful conversations with your sons!

    1. Thanks Katherine! I love the idea of having inspirational quotes around the house, and am thinking more about having some of my favourites where I can see them.

  4. When our children were young we played scrabble as a family one night a week. We threw dice to see who got to choose the rules for the game. The winner could choose regular scrabble or Jabberwocky scrabble. In order to choose Jabberwocky the player had to read or recite part of the poem first. Then the game proceeded. In Jabberwocky Scrabble it was OK to use words the player made up, as long as he or she could pronounce the word and use it in a sentence. The kids loved playing that way.

    I love this post. I wish I could better remember the things my kids said at that age. It would do us well to remember them. Could humans demolish the sun? Sounds like the kinds of questions my son would ask and I was generally too busy to give much attention.

    1. Bill, I absolutely adore the idea of Jabberwocky Scrabble, what a brilliant idea! What a fun way to kind of level the playing field for kids while keeping things seriously fun. Thanks for the idea!

      I’m wishing that I could have taken the time to record more conversations like these as my kids were growing up; they are still kids, but no longer little and asking those truly simple yet magical things. We all lose an awful lot to rushing and the passage of time, but there are special gains too.

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