Duck/Duct Tape

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Neil Krueger

Mar 10, 2003, 9:52:04 PM3/10/03
There was discussion in a thread earlier this month about the origin of the
term "duct/duck tape". I thought that "duck tape" was a
mis-apprehension/mispronunciation of the original "duct tape". Others
alleged that "duck tape" was the original name for the tape, since it was
made from cotton duck, and duct tape came later. Yesterday's Boston Globe
actually ran an article on the topic, and the author reaches the conclusion
that "duct tape" actually came first.

The Globe reaches the conclusion that duct tape came first, FWIW (see
below). Which is why, of course, that I'm posting it. :)

Neil X.

Author:    Jan Freeman Date: March 9, 2003

FOR THE DUCT Tape Guys, as authors Tim Nyberg and Jim Berg style themselves,
the storm clouds of war have a shiny silver lining: The government's
homeland security advice has sent reporters running to the titans of tape
for background.

Berg and Nyberg have been on this roll for almost a decade now, with five
books-most recently, ''Duct Shui'' (Workman)-celebrating the wacky wonder of
duct tape. (For creative advice on setting up that plastic-lined safe room,
and other defensive strategies, go to < But for word
watchers, there's a sticky side to the Duct Tape Guys' sudden relevance.
Newspapers and Internet sources have been spreading their claim that duct
tape was originally duck tape -an etymology with so many holes, it would
take several rolls of you-know-what to make it seaworthy.

Duct tape or duck tape? In the vast majority of uses, it's duct tape, meant
for sealing ventilation ducts, and most people would consider ''duck'' just
a misspelling born of pronunciation. But the Duct Tape Guys, several years
ago, published a note about the tape's use in World War II that supported
the duck tape version: ''Because it was waterproof, everyone referred to it
as duck tape (like water off a duck's back).'' Or, if you don't buy that,
''the tape was made using cotton duck''-a strong, plain-weave fabric-as the
layer between the adhesive and the waterproof surface.

Everyone does seem to agree that the sticky stuff was developed by Johnson &
Johnson for military use in World War II. But then the trail gets muddy. The
duck's-back story, Tim Nyberg says, was offered to him (reluctantly) by a
J&J spokesman seven or eight years ago, when the Duct Tape Guys were
researching Book 2. But the company's official lore mentions neither duck
nor duct tape.

And yes, there's a duct tape called Duck Tape, but that brand wasn't hatched
till the early 1980s. And its name has no connection to wartime usage, as
John Kahl, CEO of Duck Tape's manufacturer, has told reporters. His father,
he says, chose the name after noticing that duct tape sounded like duck tape
when customers asked for it.

Last week, in his New York Times Magazine column, William Safire sought
support for the duck tape tale, but the pickings were slim. He found a 1942
ad for Venetian blinds ''in white with duck tape,'' but that duck tape
wouldn't be sticky tape: It's merely cotton duck woven into the ''ladder
tapes'' that form the scaffolding for Venetian blinds. You can still buy
woven cotton tapes, among the sewing supplies, and blinds are still
available with decorative cloth tapes, no stickum included.

Besides, ''cotton duck tape'' isn't one of the ingredients for duct tape.
The cloth layer in duct tape doesn't start out as narrow strips-that is, as
''tape''-but as a wide piece of yardage: The tape is fabricated in huge
cylinders, then recut into user-friendly rolls. And anyway, how likely is it
that GIs-who may have taken shop class, but probably missed home ec -would
have nicknamed the stuff duck tape because of its hidden fabric layer?

OK, so say they named it for the waterproof layer: It sheds water, it's duck
tape. But here the problem is lack of evidence. If duck tape was common in
the `40s, why are there no clear-cut examples of such use before the 1970s,
when both duck tape and duct tape appear in print? Where are the letters
from soldiers telling their parents, ''My boots are more duck tape than
leather these days''? The war novels with daredevil rescues made possible by
duck tape?

Lack of proof isn't disproof, of course. The phrase ''the full Monty'' may
also date from World War II (as several of its proposed histories suggest),
but it didn't see print till 1985. Still, the prolific slanguist Paul
Dickson-whose latest edition of ''War Slang'' will be published this summer
by Brassey's-says he hasn't yet found a single wartime duck tape.

Until he, or someone, does, I'll stay glued to the theory that duck tape is
a phonetic spelling of duct tape. In the absence of evidence, the other
explanations are-in the words of New York slang sleuth Barry Popik-''quack
etymologies.'' Unfortunately, given the reach of the Internet and the appeal
of a good story, we may well get stuck with the duck.

E-mail For a month's worth of The Word columns, go to


Mar 10, 2003, 10:05:48 PM3/10/03
is finally over! meowie wowie! i wouldn't argue with a dr.

D.G. Devin

Mar 11, 2003, 3:58:03 AM3/11/03
Neil Krueger wrote in message ...

>There was discussion in a thread earlier this month about the origin of the
>term "duct/duck tape".

They're all wrong, everybody knows it's gaffers tape, also known as 90mph


Mar 11, 2003, 5:38:21 AM3/11/03

"D.G. Devin" <DGD...@worldnet.att.invalid> wrote in message

Gaffers tape is slightly different, although definitely in the same family


Tommy T

Mar 11, 2003, 10:40:08 AM3/11/03
"D.G. Devin" DGD...@worldnet.att.invalid writes:

>They're all wrong, everybody knows it's gaffers tape,

Actually, No - Both the sticky side and the otehr side are different.

Gaffer's tape holds well, but is easier to remove and does less damage than
Duct Tape when removed - Keeping sets and locations from being marred.

It also has more of a matte finish than Duct tape and is not as reflective.


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