STRANGEBUTTRUE- Crying game: Your baby learns in utero

Q. What language does your baby cry in? –B. Spock

A. Only days after birth, babies have a "bawl" with language, says Bruce Bower in Science News, crying in the melodic patterns they heard in adults' conversations before birth, as reported by German medical anthropologist Kathleen Wermke. Such hearing provides exposure to a specific language.

Then as newborns, they recreate these familiar patterns in their cries, important for "seeding" language development. Within days after birth, babies can discriminate the sound of their native tongue from others.

Wermke and her colleagues studied 30 newborns in French-speaking families and 30 in German-speaking families. German newborns' cries tended to start high-pitched and gravitate to increasingly lower pitches; the cries of French newborns started low-pitched and then moved higher. 

"Comparable intonation patterns characterize words and phrases used by fluent speakers of German and French." Infants in those and other cultures do indeed "wail with the melody of the native tongue."

Q. D-day was June 6, 1944, the Allied invasion at Normandy. Do you know what the "D" stands for? –Pvt. J.F. Ryan

A. According to a letter-writer to Science Illustrated magazine, Dwight D. Eisenhower and staff coined the term for an unknown date with a purpose: the debarkation of troops from their ships to the shore, making D-day "debarkation-day." But such a belief is unfounded. 

The Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Assorted Terms explains that "D-day is simply date-day, the unnamed date on which a particular operation is to commence. Similarly, H-hour is the specific hour on D-day at which a particular operation commences."

As historian Michael J. Edwards of the University of New Orleans Eisenhower Center told Science Illustrated, D-day was first used during World War I as a stand-in for the actual date of an upcoming operation. He speculates that alternative definitions such as "debarkation," "death" and "doom" may have been coined by World War II troops during the invasion at Normandy.

Q. What's the "coolest" thing about your Internet searches? –S. Brin

A. It had better be the anti-overheating equipment of your Internet Service Provider as its banks of computers swing into search action for you, generating much machine heat, says Michael Raymer in The Silicon Web: Physics for the Internet Age. A typical desktop computer uses 200 watts (W) of power. Internet server companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft need the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of such computers in a single location to operate their extensive Web searching and data-storing. In fact, 250,000 of them together use 50,000,000 W for a single server "farm." "If a typical household air-conditioning unit provides a cooling power of 1,000 W, then a large server-farm building would require the equivalent of 50,000 such air conditioners," Raymer writes.

Q. Not so long ago there were only cosmonauts and astronauts. Then very recently the Chinese gave us taikonauts. Now who's about to further expand this space-faring set? –M. Gandhi

A. That other billion-strong nation– India– has added the tongue-twisting term "vyomanauts," from the Sanskrit "vyoma" for sky or space, says New Scientist magazine. Actually, the closest Sanskrit word to astronaut would have been "vyomagami," for something that passes in the sky. 

Another consideration was "gaganaut" ("gagan" is also Sanskrit for sky), but one Indian Sanskrit studies professor declared vyomanaut a "very good" choice.

The Indian Space Research Organization is in the process of choosing four vyomanauts from a pool of 200 fighter pilots, adds the Indian Air Force. Long-range plans are for a three-person vehicle to carry two vyonanauts into

275-kilometer low-Earth orbit within several years.

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Send Strange questions to brothers Bill and Rich at Strangetrue@cs.com

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