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Penkava: Chatty Cathy versus Silent Sam

Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 9:24 a.m. CDT

I like to talk. It’s usually not too hard for me to find people to talk to. The big problem is keeping them from walking away. Maybe that’s why I like writing this column so much, because it’s kinda like you and I are having a conversation, except I get to do all of the talking and all you can do is just listen. Having fun yet?

Because of my natural male blabbiness, I was a bit surprised to read of the findings of a recent study about human speech. It seems that scientists have discovered a “language protein” that women have in abundance over men. This protein is called “Foxp2,” and it’s evidently a key molecule for communication. Piggybacking with this study is the observation that the average woman speaks about 20,000 words a day, while the average guy utters only 7,000. 

Being calculating as well as blabby, I computed that in one year a woman probably would speak almost 5 million more words than a man, which is the equivalent of reading “Hunger Games” out loud 50 times, which wouldn’t be bad if that book was all about food and mentioned bacon a lot.

If women really spoke about 13,000 more words per day than men, that would be like reciting 50 pages of “Confessions of a Shopaholic” every day. In about a week we’d have listened to the entire novel and would be well on our way to listening to “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons,” not to mention, gulp, “The Notebook.”  

It could be worse. What if we’re daily listening to 13,000 words about clothes and fashion? Suddenly we know more about Donatella Versace’s elegant designs than Patrick Kane’s spin-a-ramas. Dolce & Gabbana replace Jordan & Pippen. Fernanda Gattinoni and her revival of the high-waisted Empire style command more attention than Stephen Strasburg’s innovative blazing four-seam splitter fastball. 

Of course, we could be getting a steady diet of home and garden decorating. If that’s the case, forget the NHL playoffs or the Cubs/Sox rivalry or even that new cool universal remote that can open and close the refrigerator. Nope, now we’re zeroed in on springtime plant combinations and creative container gardens. Did you know that repeating certain plants, colors and textures adds continuity to your planting beds? And if you’re thinking about the most important elements of the perfect living room, just remember to choose neutral tones for the sofa and chairs, but splashes of color come from easy-to-change accessories such as lampshades, pillows, and curtains. 

But, I’ve got to be honest. I really don’t believe that language study. For one thing, if we men have been listening to all those extra female words all these years, then why are we still so manly? We still have our favorite sports teams and our macho power tools and our trendy techno-gadgets. We still can recite sports statistics and we can easily kill an afternoon with the TV remote. Besides, if women talked way more than us, then how come we are the ones who get the silent treatment?  

I say forget all of that language protein “Foxp2” baloney. But I will tell you that there are other proteins that women have more than men. For sure they have the “Patience2” one. Then there’s the “Long-Suffering2” protein. Obviously they have a profusion of the “Sensible/Rational2” molecule. And we must admit that the fairer sex is heavily equipped with the “Yes, I Still Love You, But Now Can We Call a Plumber2?” compound.

So rather than count the words we say, let’s just make the words we say count. After all, what’s a Stephen Strasburg fastball without the Ya-Ya Sisterhood?

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He tried to keep track of all the words his wife said in a day, but kept asking her to repeat what she said so he could count. Now she thinks he’s hard of hearing. He definitely has the “Oblivious2” protein. He can be reached at

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