Jewish World Review May 8, 2003 / 6 Iyar, 5763

Richard Lederer

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Consumer Reports

I don't duck spelling debates | Americans have recently been advised to use duct tape to provide protection against a terror attack. Americans may be surprised to find that the original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive product was duck tape, so called because it repels water.

Linguists have identified a language called Motherese. It’s how mothers speak to their children and their pets.

Mothers talking to their babies speak in a distinctive high pitch, exaggerate the emotional quality of their voices and draw out the sounding of vowels. These intuitive behaviors apparently impart lessons in how to speak or at least how to understand a native language.

Dog and cat owners also use a high pitch and amplify emotional intonations, but they don’t stretch out their vowels.

Mothers exhibited none of these acoustic signatures when talking with other adults.

My linguistic genius friend, Dave Morice, and I have come up with a challenging cinematic quiz:

  • Name a very famous actor whose name is composed of the last names of three presidents and who played a president in a film.
  • Now name a very famous president who in a film played a character who was not a president yet whose name is composed in part of a president’s name.
  • Finally, what concept unites the two actors identified above?

The answers repose at the end of this week’s column.

I recently spent a terrific day working with 4th and 5th graders at Adobe Bluffs Elementary School in Penasquitos, California. Kids of that age are bundles of hormones poured into sneakers, but they respond enthusiastically to puns, palindromes, and other kinds of language fun. In fact, the children made posters to celebrate my coming, and these placards included "Richard Lederer, the Famous Writer" and "Richard Lederer, the Popular Speaker."

But my favorite placard read "Richard Lederer, the Wanted Comedian."

Answers to the quiz: Harrison Ford (there were two presidents Harrison) played President James Marshall in "Air Force One"; Ronald Reagan played Philadelphia Nationals pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in "The Winning Team." Harrison Ford starred in the early "Star Wars" films, and Ronald Reagan was a staunch proponent of a Star Wars anti-missile defense system.

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JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


05/01/03: Find the hidden cats
04/10/03: The cat's got your tongue
04/03/03: Play Ball!
03/20/03: Categorizing Cat Words
03/13/03: Stood up by Oprah
03/06/03: The Word Circus: The Barker
02/27/03: Ana Gram, the Juggler
02/20/03: Spook etymology on the Internet
02/06/03: What's in a President's Name?
01/30/03: Twice in a Blue Moon
01/23/03: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
01/16/03: Retro-active words
12/19/02: Why I deserve welfare --- actual letters
12/05/02: English for -- make that "by" -- foreigners
11/21/02: Humorously Inclined Informational Products
11/14/02: Disorder in the Court: a Collection of 'Transquips'
10/31/02: Oxymoronology
10/24/02: The Bandwagon
10/17/02: Is life a movie? We all speak their lines
10/03/02: Brave New Words
09/26/02: English is a Crazy Language!
09/12/02: How wise is proverbial wisdom?
09/05/02: A celebration of presidential prose
08/29/02: Food for thought
08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2003, Richard Lederer