CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

Why Do Women Tend to Talk More Than Men?

Original image
ThinkStock

By Chris Gayomali

Studies have long suggested that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day. The average man, on the other hand, hovers closer to 7000. That means in one year, a Chatty Cathy could wind up speaking 4.7 million more words than a member of the quieter sex, or the rough equivalent of narrating War and Peace in its entirety ... eight times. The reason for this has long been unclear to scientists, and it's why a team of researchers at the University of Maryland sought to find a biological underpinning for why women tend to have a natural gift for gab. Their question: What makes women more talkative than men?

How it was tested

A team of neuroscientists and psychologists, led by Margaret McCarthy, studied rats to identify a protein called Foxp2, which was found to be associated with vocalization. Male rats, for example, tended to have more of this protein in their brains than females, and when scientists reduced the protein's rate of production, the baby males were far less squeaky (and were given less attention from their mothers). The next step was to see if the same was true for humans. Researchers tested 10 children between the ages of three and five to see what their Foxp2 protein levels were.

The result

Compared to young boys, the girls had 30 percent more of the Foxp2 protein in a "brain area key to language in humans," says The Telegraph. A correlation seems clear. Among rats, males are more talkative and have more of this protein. Among humans, girls are more talkative and have more of this protein in key language areas of the brain.

What the experts say

"Based on our observations, we postulate higher levels of Foxp2 in girls and higher levels of Foxp2 in male rats is an indication that Foxp2 protein levels are associated with the more communicative sex," said McCarthy. Of course, that doesn't mean women are always more talkative than men. "We can't say that this is the end-all-be-all reasoning," researcher Mike Bowers told Today, "but it is one of the first avenues with which we can start to explore why women tend to be more verbal than men."

More from The Week...

Do Your Texts Make You Sound Old?

*

The Odd Early Acting Gigs of 13 Oscar Winners

*

13 Movies with Titles that are Lies

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
Original image
Getty Images

English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
Original image
iStock

Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios