‘So somewhere in my youth … or childhood’

5th January 2024 | Daily Life, Musings | 8 comments

Edinburgh's West Bow at New YearDuring the Christmas holidays we watched The Sound of Music on television. Some parts of it will forever be charming, while other parts have not worn so well. No matter – it’s still a feast of nostalgia for those of us who remember the film when it first came out.

Bob says he has always been irritated by a line in the song ‘Something Good’, which Maria sings to Captain von Trapp after he confesses he loves her. The line is, ‘So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good’. Bob maintains that the words ‘or childhood’ were only put in to bump up the numbers of syllables in the line to the reqired number for the scansion. Youth, childhood – aren’t they interchangeable terms? We agree it might have been less annoying to say ‘somewhere in my early childhood’ or similar.

As it happens, however, I have just been reading Tolstoy’s memoir, in an English translation. In English, the title is Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. At first glance this is an even worse tautology than ‘somewhere in my youth or childhood’. Isn’t childhood the same as boyhood, and boyhood the same as youth, and youth the same as childhood?

Well, evidently not in Russian, because the memoir divides into three parts. ‘Childhood’ is the earliest. In ‘Boyhood’ the author is a bit older. In ‘Youth’ he is older still. How long does ‘youth’ go on for? Is a teenager still a youth? Is a university student still a youth? These distinctions are not clear in English. A ‘youth’ could be a child of eight. A ‘boy’ could be a man of any age, being affectionately referred to by a friend, eg. ‘He’s still a handsome boy’.

If I could read Russian, I’d know how these stages of a young person’s life are demarcated in the Russian language. But for now, we have decided to reprieve Oscar Hammerstein II (the lyricist of ‘Something Good’) on the grounds that Tolstoy, had he been commissioned by Hollywood, might also have written the line, ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood’.


  1. Susan Tomes

    Thanks to Richard Bratby for telling me that by the time the film version of ‘The Sound of Music’ came out, Oscar Hammerstein II had died and it was in fact songwriter Richard Rodgers who supplied the line ‘Somewhere in my youth or childhood’.

  2. Mary Cohen

    Not sure exactly when or where these concepts came from but I’ve always thought of childhood and youth as being different stages of life. Now you’ve got me wondering if it was from that phrase in ‘The Sound of Music’!

  3. James Dixon

    I am not surprised to hear the line didn’t come from Hammerstein – it has a clunky feel about it, although the question of whether childhood and youth are the same is open to queston. On a vaguely related theme, I discovered today that there are three words in Japanese for heart. Shinzou is the bodily organ, ha-to is the shape or symbol, and kokoro is the soul or spirit. I find this very useful and quite envy it!

    • Susan Tomes

      Thank you James, that is lovely about the three words for the heart in Japanese.

  4. Eleanor Hulme

    Developmentally children are very different from youths. Usually accepted ages are 5-12 or so, children, and 12-19 youths. Pre schoolers are exactly that and the toddlers 2-3 and under 2s babies. No real difficulty in practice.

    • Susan Tomes

      Interesting, thank you Eleanor. But what about ‘boys’ or ‘girls’ – where do they fit in between children and youths?

  5. Eric Bridgstock

    An interesting discussion. I broadly agree with Eleanor – children in junior school (5-11/12) and teenagers/youth in senior school and up to about 19.

    My views were not influenced by the film or the song. I did not see it until invited to join friends at an outdoor screening with audience participation in Twickenham as part of their silver wedding celebrations in 2002. Until then, I had assumed The Sound of Music was a bit like Mary Poppins!

  6. Heather Taves

    Dear Susan, I am a concert pianist in Canada who recently started a blog. My latest one is about Felix Wurman. I hadn’t known that you were in his DOMUS ensemble, and discovered that fact while reading about Felix for the post. But coicidentally I had already recently come across your name and your absolutely first-rate pianism because I was searching for pianists who blogged. There seem to be very few who do, so I’m delighted to find your work. I am sending you my blog post in memory of Felix. https://open.substack.com/pub/heathertaves/p/the-spirit-dance-of-beethoven?r=1lqibm&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web


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