Saturday, 22nd September 2018
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By Bill Sones and

Rich Sones, PhD

Q. Parents eagerly looking forward to Baby's first word are often surprised by what they hear. Why?

A. Though they confidently expect it to be "mummy" or "daddy," they are as likely to get "teddy" or "drink" or n"peep-bo" or "ooh," says David Crystal in "Words, nWords, Words." They shouldn't get upset. "Babies, like adults, tend not to talk about the obvious but to comment on what is novel or dramatic. It isn't just teenagers who think that there are more interesting things in life than parents."

First words typically come around 12 months of age but can be as early as eight or nine months. Some babies may skip the single-word stage and launch directly into simple sentences. By 18 months, most children produce around 50 words, by age 2 200 words, by 3 3,000-5,000 words.

One study recorded a child of 3 1/2 for a whole day and counted 37,000 words, over 4,000 different ones. "The totals seem remarkable until you actually spend time with an articulate four-year-old and find yourself wishing they would shut up so you can get a word in!"

Q. How much can you tell from your dog's bark? Better still, can you identify your dog from its bark alone?

A. Most of us can't unless we utilize our computers and software developed at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, which can distinguish the key features of barks, reports "Animal Cognition." Thus equipped, we can not only identify our own dog from its bark but also determine if it was barking at a stranger or a ball or possibly something else.

Q. When the neurobiology prof encountered a student who had plagiarized her entire paper from one of his class lectures, what punishment did he mete out? An F? Expulsion from the class?

A. A lesser teacher might have but not this one, says Oliver Sacks in "Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain." When the prof called the student into his office something didn't add up: She didn't seem the type to cheat or lie so he played a hunch, asking her if she happened to have a photographic memory. "Why, yes, sort of like that," she replied. "I can remember anything if I put it to music." She then sang back to him whole sections of his lecture. And quite prettily, he added. "I was flabbergasted."

This got Sacks thinking about the countless cultural songs and rhymes to help kids learn the alphabet, numbers and other lists. Even as adults we may have to sing the "ABC song" internally to recall the entire alphabet. Especially in preliterate cultures, music has held power in oral traditions of storytelling, liturgy, prayer. Whole books can be held in memory "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" with their music-like rhythm and rhyme. All of this may have much to do with why we humans took to music to the extent we have.

Q. "To be on cloud 9" is to be sky high with happiness, nyet probably more of us have been UNDER cloud 9. But how about cloud 10? What apparel might be appropriate in that case?

A. Likely umbrellas, raincoats and galoshes, since cloud 10 replaced the designation of cloud 9 in the 2n edition of "The International Cloud Atlas" of 1896, to signify cumulonimbus clouds, or thunderclouds, the tallest of the cloud types, says Andrew Robinson in

"The Story of Measurement." The 10 of course never caught on in popular lingo. Scientific cloud typing itself got started in 1802 when Luke Howard, drawing on an even older system, coined the names cumulus, stratus, cirrus and nimbus (the last no longer still in use).

Q. Who originally put the barb in barbed wire?

A. Credit Mother Nature. Keeping livestock pinned within hedgerows of thorny plants is an old practice, especially where wood or stone for fencing is in short supply, says Steven Vogel in "Cats' paws and Catapults."

Commonly used last century was the Osage orange, shrubby native tree native to Texas and nearby areas, and a small industry grew up to supply seedlings for use farther north. But the hedges took years to grow, were expensive to maintain adn their grapefruit-sized fruits inedible.

Enter Michael Kelly and his 1868 invention of a "thorny wire fence" mimicking the Osage. As historial Geroge Basalla noted, "Barbed wire was not created bymen who happened to twist and cut wire in a peculiar fashion. it originated in a deliberate attempt to copy an organic form."

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