“What is he?”

Scene, grocery line. Express lane, after 5pm, crowded. I’m with Jake, who’s in a good mood and chuckling because he enjoys crowds. In front of us, a mother facing forward, and two little ones facing us.

“Mom,” one boy tugs on his mother’s sleeve, “What is he?”

(Usually kids want to know if he’s a baby or not. They can see enough details in both categories to be confused.)

The mother turns around, smiles at happy Jake, and says, “Oh, he is laughing.”

Yes, at that moment anyway, Jake was laughing. By quickly reaching for a gerund rather than a label, she turned the definition question (which isn’t so helpful) into a “what is he… doing right now” question. Cool.

(I wonder if this switch made more automatic sense for Spanish speakers–which they were–because of the ser/estar distinction? If so, score one for bilingualism.)

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