Sometimes, Childhood Misconceptions Make More Sense Than the Grownup Reality

Emergency vehicles are seen outside the Watergate complex.
Why is this called Watergate?
Mladen Antonov /Getty Images

Earlier this week on Twitter, Jennifer Wright, author of It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Break-Ups in History, posed a question to her followers: What was the weirdest thing they remembered misunderstanding as a kid? Initiating the most recent in a spate of call-and-response type Twitter threads that solicit the best of humanity, Wright offered up her own previously held misconceptions to get the ball rolling—like thinking the word adultery meant pretending to be an adult, and that clowns came out the womb in grease paint .

According to Wright, some of the most common youthful convictions were that the world used to be in black and white (old movies!) and that guerilla warfare was a sort of Planet of the Apes-type scenario where gorillas duked it out on the battlefield. Another concept lost in childhood translation? That the Underground Railroad was not, quite literally, a “subterranean railway that slaves had built.” (Though to be fair, that belief eventually became the plot of a Pulitzer-prize winning novel so maybe these former kids were onto something.) Some of the funnier ones include a long-held belief that opening a dishwasher would unleash roughly eight cubic feet of water into your kitchen. In one kid’s mind, gun point was a real location where people kept going for unknown reasons. And disturbingly, rather than just your professional life going up in flames, getting “fired” from your job clearly involved an actual flamethrower in the eyes of another respondent.

While a fair number of the misunderstandings were as nonsensical as a toddler explaining astrophysics, a few of these kidconceptions beautifully illustrated the same belief that underlies Jimmy Kimmel’s popular Kid Theater bit: A world defined by children is not only better but sometimes ends up making more sense than the one defined by adults and their dull common sense.

If a divorce is the opposite of a marriage, why wouldn’t there be inverse ceremonies? A term clearly describing a dam-like gate holding back water makes no sense for the name of an office building, no matter how many episodes of Slow Burn I listen to. And if sparkling water was accurately named, every bottle of Perrier would shimmer like Edward Cullen’s undead skin. These straightforward but whimsical ways of making sense of the world remind us that whenever we dismiss kids as ridiculous, we’d do well to remember that many of our grown-up ideas, viewed with just a little distance, are remarkably bizarre.