ninnies and yickels

October 24th, 2005

Gideon has become fascinated with coins.

I suppose I can understand that. He’s twenty-two months old and coins are ubiquitous and interesting– they’re shiny (mostly), just the perfect size for grasping tightly in his hand and they come in different sizes, colors, and textures (and flavors, but fortunately he’s never put one in his mouth yet). When you’re that age you want to constantly have something. It’s cool to hold on to some little thing and carry it around with you, occasionally putting it into your pocket and taking it back out.

And this is precisely what Gideon does with coins. I am fairly certain he has no idea of any intrinsic value they may have other than to be something for him to spot, grab, and hold– and of course point out, whenever he sees them, wail when you take one away from him, drop, search for, drop again, cry about when he can’t find it the second time, and blabber on about constantly.

Actually it’s kind of cute and much more endearing than I made it out to be above. In fact, clearing up whatever residual consternation you may still harbor at the title of this post which appears to almost but not quite be in a different language, the coins that currently recline langorously on a throne near the top of the second tier of the pantheon of Gideon’s imagination have been the source of at first one, and now two of those words kids laugh about in later years when you say to your spouse “remember when the child was young and he said (amusing semi-baby word) for (object)?”.

Yes, the blabbering mentioned above is for ‘ninnies’ and ‘yickels’ these words representing respectively, pennies and nickels, these being the only two categorizations of coins Gideon thus far has deigned to apply.

When he first began to notice the targets of his newfound fascination a few weeks ago, he quickly learned the word penny which he rendered as ninnie since the word is so often pronounced with a hurried economy of the tongue that makes the initial vowel of the word sound more like the narrow, brittler short i phoneme seen in the word pin than the broad, elegant e phoneme seen in words like, well, elegant itself and pen.

At first any coin he saw was a ninnie. In fact, any coin he couldn’t currently see, but remembered the location of was a ninnie and when interest in whatever he was doing at the time waned, he’d start talking about ninnies and go in search of them.

Like many, if not most, homes in the USA, there is a fair amount of change laying around ours and a large portion of it is pennies since when one scrapes up change they sensibly make an effort to get the big stuff, but don’t sweat the coppers (apologies to any plumbers not only for the pun, but the fact that it contravenes standard practice) thus leaving an abundance of ¢1 pieces. This is fortunate in that if Gideon is going in search of coins to play with I’d just as soon he played with the minimum denomination possible.

Soon, though, he realized some of them were different colors. It must have happened while I was at work, but one evening I heard him say ‘yickel’. I was sitting in the recliner in front of the TV decompressing after the drive home. Alton Brown was discussing the esoteric intricacies of how to flambé a yak’s eyeball or some such monkey business when Gideon waltzed by brightly chirping ‘ninnie ninnie ninnie’.

“Let me see it, Gideon,” I called to him.

He came over and held out a penny in his right hand and obviously had something in his left, too.

“What’s in your other hand, son?”

“Yickel,” he proudly proclaimed as he held out a quarter.

“That actually is a quarter. Can you say quarter?”


“Uh, may I see it?”

“Mine,” he snapped as he drew it close to his chest and wandered off reciting “ninnie… yickel… ninnie… yickel…”

Ruth explained that he’d had a nickel earlier and when she’d told him it wasn’t a penny but a nickel he picked up the word, or his version of the word, instantly, though apparently the brown ones were ninnies and the silver ones were yickels and that was as picky as he cared to be about it.

Yes, these days ninnies are better than toys and almost as good as nacks (snacks).

A recent Saturday morning as we were all waking up and getting ready, Ruth was downstairs, Isaiah was beginning to make waking noises in his room and I heard Gideon calling “Mom… Mo-ommy…” from his crib. I knew Ruth was busy with something so walked into his room.

“Good morning, Son. Mommy’s busy. Will I do?”

He was in a good mood and smiled. He even gave me a hug, though I wasn’t Mom.

“Mommy will be up in a minute,” I said.

“Room! Room!” he exclaimed pointing out his door.

“Oh, do you want to go to Isaiah’s room?” Gideon frequently wants to go in his brother’s room and play/hang around when we’re getting up or getting ready for bed.

“NO! Room– room!”

“Oh– do you want to go to my room? OK.”

I was flattered and delighted that he wanted to hang out with me instead of Isaiah. Then, as soon as I set him down on the bed he chirped “Ninnies!” and clambered for the shelves built into the headboard of our bed where there is always a pile of loose change.