RR12-Rudyard Kipling

“Grown-Up” Vocabularies

In his short story How the Leopard Got His Spots, Rudyard Kipling successfully creates an almost mythical world full of strange animals and happenings. Written in a childish, whimsical style, this story does not fail to bring a smile to my face each time I read it. “In the days when everybody started fair, Best Beloved, the Leopard lived in a place called the High Veldt,” begins the story. “’Member it wasn’t the Low Veldt, or the Bush Veldt, or the Sour Veldt, but the ‘sclusively bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy-yellowish grass.” This example of Kipling’s childish vocabulary brings to my mind an image of a very young child telling a story to his toys, or perhaps his father. His small voice babbles on, telling a nonsense story filled with big, misused and mispronounced “grown-up” words, in imitation of his parents. This imitation appears later on in the story as well.


Kipling gives the Ethiopian in his story a ridiculously large, impressive vocabulary, including phrases such as “present habitat” and “aboriginal fauna.” After introducing these words to the story, the narrator confides, “…the Ethiopian always used long words. He was a grown-up.” This further encourages the image in my mind of a very young child telling the story. Just as a child will admire and strive to emulate his parents by trying to use the same big words, make the same gestures, or like the same things, so the narrator of the story makes the “grown-up” character speak with an exaggeratedly “grown-up” vocabulary. Rudyard Kipling successfully draws the reader into his story and provides entertainment through a childlike vocabulary. How the Leopard Got His Spots will not cease to bring enjoyment to me whenever I read it.




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