by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
frugal adj. 
  1. Avoiding unnecessary expenditures of money; thrifty. 
  2. Costing little; inexpensive. 
The greatest wonder to me is how the nascent mind exalts itself, acquiring knowledge from scratch.  A feat beyond the cumulative power of all the computers in the world, yet the human brain consumes a mere 25 watts.  About the same as a light bulb, barely bright enough to read by.  No psychic energy to waste.  The child must be mentally frugal.

Take language: syntax, grammar, vocabulary -- words by the tens of thousands -- all appropriated in but a handful of childhood years.  Serious business.  What we call "frankness" in children is merely one manifestation of the frugal-mindedness that attends the effort.  Another is the way they take what adults say literally.  Caution is advised in joking with a child.  Developing "an appreciation of the absurd" has a low priority.

The natural strategy used by children for acquiring knowledge, "generalizing from the particular" (see Scotch), has a variant, sometimes called "transductive reasoning," which is best observed when it malfunctions (see sincere).  On a family trip, the child sees other vehicles traveling in the same direction and wonders aloud about the crowds of strangers who will be showing up at grandma's house.

My favorite example of transduction comes from a grown-up joke, which reached my ears during the first decade of my life.

Upon hearing that "Scotch" means "frugal," a child asked his father to explain.

"  'Frugal' means 'thrifty', son."

" 'Thrifty'?"

" 'Thrifty' means -- well, 'to save'. "

Later the child wrote a story about a princess on a runaway horse, who calls out to a nearby prince. "Frugal me, frugal me!  So he frugalled her and they lived happily ever after."

My own little 25-watt mind acquired the anecdote -- and a new word.  Generalizing from some previous particular, I assumed that the adult snickering was directed at the fictitious child's misguided transduction.

The classmates to whom I told the story were not amused.  Neither were their parents.  Nor, eventually, mine.

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