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story.lead_photo.caption Mel Blanc 1959 (publicity still) and Manhattan Bridge Tower in Brooklyn, New York (U.S. National Archives)

When you were a kid watching Looney Tunes cartoons, did you ever wonder how Bugs Bunny got the Brooklyn accent?

I don't think it fazed me when I was young. Bugs sounded like a lot of my uncles.

But Bugs seems to be a hare without a home. When the inept Elmer Fudd is hunting Bugs, the two are usually in a forestlike setting, not any New York borough. We never learn his backstory, do we?

Well, I have learned some of it. I always figured that Mel Blanc, the voice master for Bugs, was from the New York area. He wasn't. He was a West Coast man. When he first became acquainted with Bugs, he decided on the Brooklyn accent. He saw Bugs as bratty. In a newspaper interview, Blanc said, "Bugs was a tough little stinker; that's why I came up with a Brooklyn accent."

At this point, you may be wondering whether I spend a little too much time thinking about Bugs Bunny. But I was reading an article on why TV commercials use speakers with particular accents.

I thought of StarKist's spokesfish Charlie the Tuna, who also has a Brooklyn accent. We'll set aside Charlie's strange death wish — he wants to be caught, canned, then eaten. But did he, too, have a Brooklyn accent because he was a little stinker? No wonder StarKist rejects him again and again.

I can understand a gravelly voiced man with a country accent trying to sell me a rugged truck rather than one of those wimpy, citified trucks. Even though Grey Poupon was created in France, I can understand British peerage being used to sell the mustard. It's marketed as a sophisticated condiment. I have more trouble believing that Irish people use Irish Spring or eat Lucky Charms, or that a gecko with a cockney accent is an expert at recommending car insurance.

One study said that the speaker's accent clues in viewers to all sorts of personality traits. The study indicated that Australians are less likely to trust the opinion of an American speaker. (Conversely, I'm pretty sure that Hugh Jackman could sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. But that's a whole other story.)

Other linguistic studies showed that listeners favor a standard accent over a regional one. That may well vary by country, though. In fact, it no doubt varies by person.

Email me if you have noticed puzzling accents on commercials you've seen.


After last week's column about money talk, a couple of readers sent me currency phrases that surprised me.

One that I had never heard was "to spend a penny." That's a subtle way to say you're going to use the bathroom. It comes from the mid-19th century, when London's public toilet stalls required a penny for admission. I guess the phrase sounds more plausible than "to powder one's nose."

One reader reminded me of "folding money" as slang for cash. That one makes sense.

And I remembered a slang word for money that I like. It's "simoleons," a portmanteau that combines Simon, a slang word for a dollar coin, with the name of a French gold coin, a Napoleon.


Some readers sent me examples of toponyms, or things that get their names from places.

One was Nantucket Red, the faded salmon color of a clothing line that originated in Nantucket, Mass. I'm so happy it didn't originate in a limerick about Nantucket that I wouldn't be permitted to reprint in this paper.

Another was Capri pants. Capri pants are either long shorts or short pants. European fashion designer Sonja de Lennart invented them in the late 1940s and named them after Italy's Isle of Capri. The beautiful actress turned princess Grace Kelly was often seen in them. They naturally became more popular after that.

And one more was the Adirondack chair. The outdoor wooden chair was, indeed, invented in the Adirondacks. It was built to adjust to the uneven land in New York's mountainous Adirondack region. Also essential was its wide, flat armrest to hold summertime adult beverages.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, Purdue Research Foundation, Global Business Languages,,,,, Orvis, BBC,

Style on 01/07/2019

Print Headline: Accents matter in sales pitch

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