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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Too Bad The Elephant is Dead

Bow has been enjoying the toy elephant that my mother brought him during her Thanksgiving visit. He chews on it quietly for hours. Little by little it has been dismembered, losing first its tusks, then the trunk, followed by an ear, a part of a leg, and most recently the entire head.

During the past week, Bow would hand me the elephant and suggest with body language that I chase him, holding the elephant in my hand and trying to tag Bow. At first he didn't have a name for it, but then sometime last week he came up with this request: "תפילי אותי" It sounded as if he wanted me to make him fall, from the root נפל.

"You want me to make you fall?" I asked.

He handed me the elephant and repeated the request. Then I understood that he was interpreting the root of the word as פיל, meaning "elephant", and he was actually saying something more like: "Elephant me!" At that time the elephant still had its head, or most of it, and so I started to chase Bow around the pen, touching him with the elephant's broken trunk edge.

Yesterday, when the head came off completely, revealing that the elephant is hollow on the inside, at one point Bow took my hand and spelled: "חבל שהפיל מת" That means "Too bad that the elephant died."

I looked at him. Did he feel no responsibility in this matter? "Well, Bow, why did you kill it?" I asked.

He looked sad. "Bow is bad," he spelled. He managed to look saddened, but unrepentant.


  1. This post was fun. I accidentally broke a porcelain doll when I was trying to clean it. I thought if I took it outside and shook it a bit, hoping the dust might come off its hair. However, I accidentally dropped and broke it. I found out it was hollow on the inside when its head came off. I was sad, but I had had it for ten years, and by then I really did not do much with it. It was a doll from QVC and not a collector's item. I still have a picture of it from my twelfth birthday.

  2. Thanks, JewelandtheSun! I guess we never really find out what a toy consists of or how it is made until it is broken. It's too bad about your porcelain doll, but it's good that it happened when you no longer needed it as a plaything.

  3. Very interesting response from Bow. Empathy in chimps is not a new observation I assume? This seems so matter of fact, when actually it is quite remarkable. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Michael, thanks for your comment. Empathy in chimps is a common observation. In fact, they often try to groom and heal conspecifics they themselves have injured. In this case, of course, it's just a toy, and so not really a bona fide case of empathy. But Bow was sad about the consequences of his destructive act.

    The problem is that feeling sad about a destructive act after it has happened does not seem to do anything to prevent a recurrence.