A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

My Photo
Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Word of the Day: Echolalia

Back in August, I posted an entry on "mussitation." That's muttering or murmuring, as though talking, but with little sound issuing. I then rather pretentiously listed several other five-dollar words with similar meanings. A smart-aleck reader thereupon posted a comment, asking me if mussitation included "when the listener in a conversation absent-mindedly mouths the speaker's words?" And I was nonplussed. I knew well enough that it didn't, but I couldn't supply the correct term.

Well, I stumbled across the missing word today. It's echolalia. Echolalia can be a symptom of autism, as I was reminded today while doing research for an article on ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorders). It can be immediate, or delayed; communicative, or not.

It must be horribly frustrating to be the parent of an autistic child who parrots everything you say or everything that he hears on TV. But echolalia is used to brilliant effect by the immensely talented character actor, William Hickey, in the otherwise-forgettable comedy Forget Paris. Hickey plays Billy Crystal's father-in-law, who is pretty senile and lives with Crystal and his wife. The old man reads signs out loud whenever they take him anywhere in the car. It's almost the extent of his verbalizations. And around the house he's constantly muttering, "You want it, you got it...Toyota." Driving Crystal out of his mind, but, of course, to the audience it's hilarious.

I myself am not yet at the point of repeating television commercials. But maybe that's because I never watch television. Once in a while, I do catch myself reading signs out loud. Pretty scary! Now I wonder what that's called?