What you may not know about my dog, Thurman, is that he is briefly capable of speech, and he uses these periods to better understand the world of humans. Here is a re-creation of my most recent conversation with Thurman.
I was walking through the dining room, where Thurman was lying so as to monitor all comings and goings in the house. As I moved by, I leaned down, pet him once on the head and said “boop.” Thurman’s reaction was immediate.
“Human, what is boop?” he asked me. I realized I wasn’t sure.
“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just something humans do to animals.” At the time I was trying to collect the garbage to take out, and I didn’t exactly want an interrogation.
That feeble explanation was clearly not enough for Thurman. “Would you boop another human?” he asked me.
“I might do it to a baby,” I said, thinking aloud before immediately clarifying: “A baby, by the way, is a human puppy. You’ve seen them on walks.”
“Ah, yes,” Thurman said. “Human, would you boop The Roommate?”
“No, Thurman. The Roommate would probably not like that.”
“Human, is boop an act of dominion or of benevolent condescension?”
“It’s neither, really,” I said after having thought about it for a few seconds. “It’s more of an act of affection.”
Thurman blinked once or twice and considered this. “May I boop you, human?”
“No, you may not.”
“Human, why can I not boop?”
“Well, for one thing, Thurman, I know you were digging in mud today, and your paws aren’t clean. For another I’m not sure you’d be able to reach the top of my head without me lying on the floor.”
“Human, must the boop land on the top of the skull?”
“No, Thurman. If you’ll remember I booped you on the nose a while back.”
Thurman looked down. “I do remember, human. I didn’t care for it. My nose is very sensitive, you know.”
I apologized for the slight, but Thurman had clearly already moved on. “Human, what is the origin of the boop? As a word, I mean, not as a demonstration of dominance?”
“Thurman, I just told you that I don’t think it’s necessarily about dominance. And I don’t know. I suppose it’s onomatopoeia.”
“But the act of booping produces no perceptible noise,” he persisted. “Surely the term has origins elsewhere.”
I had to admit he had a point. “You’re probably right, actually. So then no, I don’t know why we say ‘boop’ when we boop.”
“Human, perhaps it is better not to engage in ceremonies when you do not understand their histories,” Thurman continued. “Perhaps it is unwise, as you do not understand what implications and connotations to which your are tacitly endorsing.”
I sighed, then agreed that I would not boop him any longer.
“A underside rub would be preferable,” Thurman point out.
“Fine, yes, but please remember that we call it a belly rub. Underside rub sounds weird.”
“Human, my belly is ever so soft and warm.”
“I know, Thurman.”
“Human, when may I eat a cat?”
I turned around to begin once again my explanation of why he would not be allowed to eat a cat, but by the time I did, he had turned his full attention to licking mud out from between his toes. The moment of speech had passed. I wondered if there were any pattern to these moments. I wondered what he would ask about during his next.