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Column - You cling to your 'duct' and I'll cling to my 'duck'

Some questions will likely be argued until the last gasp of time.

One of them is this: "Is it duck tape or duct tape?"

Recently, I wrote a column about how much I depend upon duck tape. As I wrote that piece, I just knew I'd get some flak for using "duck" instead of "duct." Sure enough, I received e-mails from readers informing me I should've written "duct" tape.

Years ago, I too corrected people when they'd say or write "duck" tape. I was certain that "duct" tape had become "duck" tape only because when saying "duct tape," it sounds like "duck tape" because of those two "t" sounds slammed together, the first of which is canceled out by the second, making "duct" sound like "duck." At least, that was my theory.

"It's DUCT tape," I'd remind people. "That's because they use that tape on duct work. What in the heck would tape have anything to do with DUCKS?"

Turns out I was right and I was wrong. It's kind of a good feeling, a rare honor, to be right and wrong at the same time.

Just about 10 years ago, a fellow reporter and columnist - Hollan Lommen, who wrote for this newspaper at the time - did some research into the never-ending "duck" vs. "duct" debate. He wrote an interesting column about it after discovering that the tape was, indeed, "duck" tape once upon a time until it morphed into its latter-day variant, "duct" tape. It's really amazing how often people will get riled over the duct-duck argument.

Here's the low-down, folks:

During World War II, the Johnson and Johnson company made a waterproof tape to keep water from seeping into ammunition cases. The olive-drab green tape was so effective, some soldiers said moisture rolled right off of it like "water off a duck's back." It wasn't long before G.I.s were using that miracle tape for just about any quick fix-it need that came along - from strapping tools to their clothing to sticking together loose parts on Jeeps.

Another possible origin of "duck" is that many who first saw the tape during the war thought it resembled the duck-canvas cotton strips often used in Venetian blinds of that time.

After the war, the tape was sometimes used on ductwork in building projects. And then it became a virtual household helper, at which time its color was changed to silvery gray. Because of duct-work applications, many began calling it duct tape.

Nowadays, there is a Duck-trademark tape, complete with cute yellow-duck logo, made by Henkel Consumer Adhesives.

Variations of duck/duct tape are known as gaffer tape, racer's tape, rigger's tape, hurricane tape and even 100 mph tape, the latter because it is supposed to hold up against winds of that velocity.

Duct tape, by the way, is not used to seal ductwork, at least not anymore, because building codes require a different, fireproof-type tape.

Duck tape is so universally wonderful that it literally helped save the lives of the three astronauts during the imperiled Apollo 13 flight in 1970. The astronauts used the tape to help situate square carbon-dioxide filters into round receptacles in the lunar module.

Some home-remedy enthusiasts swear that duck tape can make warts disappear. Experts are still haggling over that one.

Two buddies known as "The Duck Tape Guys" have written seven books about duct tape and its millions of uses (yes, that duo does call it "duct" tape). They're fond of saying, "It ain't broke, it just lacks duct tape."

Another bit of their advice is this: "Two rules get you through life: If it's stuck and it's not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it's not stuck and it's supposed to be, duct tape it."

Although most word-origin sleuths believe the adjective was originally "duck," most tend to favor the usage of "duct" tape these days. But either is correct. And so, you say "tomahto," I say "tomato." You cling to "duct," I'll stick to "duck."

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at