"Is practically a word?" my daughter asked. Her older brother, who will someday seek therapy to heal the scars on his psyche due to his sister's birth, told her that it is not; just another futile attempt to drive her back into the womb so he can be the baby again.
"What does it mean?" she further inquired.
"It means almost, but not completely, but enough to be considered complete. Or sometimes it means more than complete in order to emphasize just how complete," I explained.
"Oh," she hesitantly replied, mentally translating Greek.
I supplied an example for illustration. "Like if you ask me if we have any hot chocolate mix and I look in the can and see a little bit at the bottom and then I tell you the can is practically empty. I'm telling you that there is some mix, but not enough to make a cup of hot chocolate, so for all intensive purposes, the can is empty, even though it's not completely empty. Understand?"
"We don't have any hot chocolate?" she disappointedly replied. "When did we run out? You mean we can't make any hot chocolate tonight?"
Our conversation quickly lost control of the wheel and drove into the ditch. I corrected, "Practically has nothing to do with hot chocolate. It just has to do with some but not enough, or a lot, but not as much as implied."
"So, we practically do have some hot chocolate?" she questioned, confused, insinuating that I missed the point of our exchange.
How to answer? "Honey, it's like this. You might ask me if we have any hot chocolate and I look in the pantry and see that we have two unopened cans of mix, plus the half-full can in the basket by the coffeemaker. So I tell you, 'Yes, we have hot chocolate mix, enough to practically feed an army.' Do we really have that much?"
I posed a rhetorical question, but she answered anyway. "I don't know. Do we? Will that much feed an army? How big is an army?"
"No dear, that much hot chocolate will not feed an army. I used practically in order to exaggerate."
"Yes. To emphasize how much hot chocolate we have by overstating the amount."
"So we don't have two more cans of hot chocolate in the pantry?" she clarified.
"I don't think so," I confirmed.
"So we practically have no hot chocolate?"
"I guess," I gave in, with a sigh.
"But you said practically has nothing to do with hot chocolate and that we do have some."
Our dialogue not only drove into the ditch, but it rolled upside down with the tires spinning. And I tangled my tongue in my restraint, even as I tried to free myself. "We do have some hot chocolate."
"Practically how much?" she quizzed, not letting up.
"Practically is a word," I responded, trying to return us to the original context of our interaction.
"I know that," she said. Then she demonstrated her grasp of the concept. "Practically is a word, but it almost isn't, but sometimes practically is more than a word, meaning that it is enough of a word for us, but not for an army. And we practically do have hot chocolate, meaning some to make a cup of hot chocolate but not more than enough."
Her brother, who prompted our tete-a-tete, could not let it end without tears or yelling or controversy or his sister getting in trouble. So he whispered, "There's no such thing as elves."
She whispered back, "Then we practically have enough hot chocolate to feed them."
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to send comments to email@example.com and to visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)