"He's very verbal," the proud daddy informs us of his baby boy.

Oh, yes. I remember the "very verbal" babies.

You can't hold it against the guy. That kind of investment is what ensures the survival of the species, after all.

Baby must have been right on schedule with whatever books or articles said he should have consonant sounds by week X, babbling by week Y and a few words by age 1.

It was just a few years ago that I was enjoying taking care of my own lovely baby--bathing her, changing her, kissing her and making her laugh--just going about the whole business in a pretty relaxed way, given that she was the third child in the family.

Then, sometime after her first birthday, it occurred to me that the delightful one wasn't talking yet. The other two had, by that age. Other babies her age we knew were.

One of the great things about a third baby is that you never, ever look at the developmental charts in the baby books. It doesn't cross your mind. You're too busy to think of the blasted things.

But once the 1-year-equals-first-words idea lodged, I couldn't get rid of it.

I checked the books, and I got the impression my daughter was a bit of a laggard, linguistically. It was obvious she knew what was being said. The books advised me to check with my pediatrician. Nothing to worry about, the doctor said.

The weeks went on. Friends said Einstein didn't talk until he was 2. I looked for the word each day. Each day. For weeks and weeks and weeks. The word came, of course. I forget what it was--or when.

If "How Babies Talk" (Dutton, $25.95) had been around when I was lathering about in pointless worry, just maybe I would have calmed down. This new book says of the "pinnacle of the first word:"

"For some children this milestone is reached when they are 10 months of age, and for others . . . parents seem to wait endlessly."

The authors, researchers Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, contrast 12-month-old Priscilla, "the firstborn child of two English professors" who greets playmates as they enter the house, with Edgar, 18 months old, who still didn't have a real first word.

(You have to feel for Edgar's mom.)

"Adults have a tendency to think that Priscilla is smarter than Edgar, that the timing of the first word is an early clue to children's intelligence. It is true that children with identifiable syndromes, such as Down's syndrome, utter their first words later than do children of average intelligence. For those within the normal range, however, there is no relationship between when a child utters her first gem and her later IQ score."

Here are a few more findings from "How Babies Talk:"

* A baby's temperament may contribute to timing of first words. The most expressive babies--whether that expressiveness is positive or negative--tend to say first words later "than those who have more neutral facial expressions."

* Research finds huge variances in how many words babies understand. A large study found that at 10 months, the number of words varied from 11 to 154. Despite these differences, "the vast majority of children go on to learn language equally well."

* During the last half of the second year, a "naming explosion" typically takes place, in which toddlers acquire about nine new words a day.

Until I encountered that very verbal baby, I'd pretty well forgotten about my bout of first-words anxiety. As with so much of child-rearing, you look back, you cringe and you ask: What was that all about?