Like a pig with chicken pox

I found this article incredibly interesting. It’s about the 500 Words competition, run by BBC Radio 2, a short story competition aimed at children up to the age of 13, which has had 90,000 entries this year. The entries have been analysed by lexicographers at the Oxford University Press to map out some of the trends in children’s use of language. Not only are the results on the usage of certain words and concepts pretty interesting, but this article also includes quotes from some of the stories submitted, which I found so insightful and of quite a high level considering the age of the children concerned. I can imagine that a fair few adults wouldn’t be able to come up with ideas half as imaginative or well written as some of the examples seen here.

I love the examples of the use of similes – As trustworthy as a fox with a chicken feather poking out of its mouth; Her face looked like a pig with chickenpox – what an image! And the imagination behind the made-up words is also impressive – I told them that this ghost is one of a kind called a lumbagain ghost who makes people dull and boring. Shockingly he only gets children but when it gets mad he could get teachers and only comes to schools.

Creativity is also apparent in the most common themes of stories, with fantasy themes more commonly used than technology and gadgets (though I liked the creative use of mobile phone apps; the time travel app for example), and monsters and dragons appearing more frequently than animals such as cats. When comparing use of language between children and adults, it seems the research shows we become a bit more boring as we get older – where a common word for a child might be “space ship,” for an adult it is more likely to be “kitchen sink.”

This snapshot of analysis has given me a new found respect for the power of imagination, and for the imagination of the authors of childrens books. Perhaps we could all benefit from a bit of unpressured creativity such as this every now and again.



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