Return to Wendell Johnson Memorial Home Page
NOTE, July 18, 2000

This page was first created sometime in 1997, at which time I did not have the ability to create "streaming" audio and video files. Rather than delete, or edit, it I have left it as it was then. There are, now (July 2000), however, two streaming video files of Dad's voice. Both may be found on my "Streaming Audio and Video" page, under "Wendell Johnson." If you are curious (or confused) that page explains the significance of streaming. One of the audio files is the entire 50-minute lecture from which the 1-minute "plogglies" excerpt is taken. The other is Dad singing one of his songs, "Gray Hairs."

-- N.J., Iowa City, July 18, 2000

Wendell Johnson's Voice: "Plogglies"

Click here for a .wav file of Wendell Johnson speaking. (Because the 1:06 file is 1.4 MB, at 4-5 KB/second it will take some 4 to 6 minutes to load; so you may want to do this later, or click on it now, but then read the rest of this page while it is loading.)

In addition to providing a delightful story, the audio clip also demonstrates the state of his "stuttering." I recall what I would call his "severe stuttering" when I was a boy in the 1930s and 1940s. Although the "p" (in his reference to People in Quandaries) causes him a brief disfluency in this 1956 excerpt, the clip indicates the generally normal speech of this person who essentially transformed himself from someone with a serious "speech handicap" into a "public speaker" of considerable renown.

What follows is (1) some background about the significance of the plogglies, and (2) a little technical explanation, if you are unfamiliar with audio files on the Internet. 


This excerpt is taken from one of Dad's lectures in his University of Iowa General Semantics course. He taught the course for many years, and it was one of the most popular courses on campus at the time. This excerpt is from a lecture on December 12, 1956. By that time the course was in such demand that it was broadcast over the University's AM radio station, WSUI.

I am no more capable of summarizing general semantics here than I was on the Home Page. But I will try to position the ploggly discussion.

One of the concepts within the literature of general semantics is the notion of "levels of abstracting." That is, our language permits -- indeed, almost compels -- the notion that speech is speech. A statement that, "When I put a thermometer in a pot of boiling water in Iowa City, at 800 feet above sea level, in 1987, the thermometer registered 212 degrees F.," is seemingly no better or worse than a statement (without dates or definitions) that, "The commies have taken over our government." An awareness of levels of abstraction enables us to tell one from the other. We can describe: phenomena we have observed with the aid of instruments like microscopes or telescopes, what we can see with the naked eye, statements about those statements, statements about those statements, and so forth, as our language becomes more and more general.

At one end or the other of this ladder of abstraction are the explanations we provide ourselves for that which we cannot see. They are our theories, our guesses -- or our faith. In this portion of the lecture, for example, he describes the evaporation of water from a glass, and then postulates the molecular theory as explanation in such a way as to deliberately bring the class to laughter at the improbability of such a theory.

In 1956, before ball point pens became popular, many wooden pencils were consumed in the average university. Iowa was no exception. So in the course of explaining the language of theories Dad puts forward his theory as to why it is that whenever you go to find a pencil you can't find one, and that if you do find a pencil, and go to the pencil sharpener it is always full of shavings. His theory is that there are "plogglies" that come in the night and run the pencils through the sharpeners. The suggestion, of course, is that a ploggly theory of the disappearance of water from a glass is about as rational as the molecular theory. 

Audio Files

Obviously, if you are experienced at handling audio files on your computer, this .wav file is like every other one you've listened to, and you don't need to read this.

Virtually anything can be stored on a hard drive as a computer file, sent over the Internet, and transformed back into its original format by a computer at the other end: text files, photos, audio -- and even video. The more "information" in the file, however, the more space it takes up on your hard drive and going through the Internet. This single minute of audio, for example, takes nearly as much space (1.4 megabytes) as all of the other files that are a part of the Wendell Johnson Memorial Home Page. That also means, for example, that it will take 100 times as long for you to download it as it takes to retrieve one of the 14 kilobyte files.

In order to hear this file you must have the hardware within your computer necessary for playing it, such as a sound card and speakers. You also need software capable of playing files ending in ".WAV". Your Web browser may be configured so that when you click on the underscored word "here" at the top of this page it will automatically start downloading the file, and, once downloaded, play it for you. If not, you may want to click on "Options" on your Web browser and indicate what software you want it to use when you download .wav files. Or, it may require that you first "save" the file, as you would any other, and that you then, later, play the file.

If none of this is clear to you find the nearest 14-year-old and ask her how to do it. 

Return to Wendell Johnson Memorial Home Page