I recently came upon a word I didn’t know existed, but I did recognize what it was.
Ventriloquy: the art or practice of speaking, with little or no lip movement, in such a manner that the voice does not appear to come from the speaker but from another source, as from a wooden dummy.
Yes, I knew what ventriloquist and ventriloquism were, but I’ve never seen this form. Inquiring minds want to know, so employing Latin, we see that ventri means abdomen, and loquī, meaning to speak. Speaking from the gut. Hmm… Of course I needed to dig deeper into that.
Don’t talk to me, talk to him
Ventriloquism has been around for thousands of years, and it didn’t start out as entertainment, but rather as a mystical undertaking. Ventriloquy was practiced by diviners who would speak as the spirit of the departed by barely moving their lips. They claimed they were able to do so because the spirits lived in their stomachs and communicated from there. Given the Latin mentioned above, that new word makes perfect sense.
Known as throwing one’s voice, the art of ventriloquism is a rather sneaky ability. This practiced skill involves controlling the movement of the lips while talking or singing. Not an easy thing, as full enunciation requires lips, tongue, and mouth for forming words. Ventriloquists do all that behind their lips. The whole while this is going on, a hand inside the dummy moves its mouth like a puppet. Being the communicative creatures we are, our eyes naturally focus on the source of the voice we hear. But if we don’t see lips moving with the words spoken, our eyes fall on the dummy. Essentially, ventriloquism tricks us.
Sometime in the 18th century, ventriloquism left the spiritual behind and became comedic entertainment in pubs and at races and fairs. The first ventriloquist performance in a theater took place in 1796. The ventriloquist was a man by the name of Joseph Askins. As he had a wooden leg, he was creatively marketed as the man with one leg and 2 voices. Apparently he was a huge hit with the crowds.
The 19th century saw the rise of Vaudeville and with it, the popularity of ventriloquism. The Industrial Revolution saw income rise as well. High and low priced theaters popped up all over, and audiences from all walks of life packed the houses to be entertained and awed. As nothing was worse than a stale act, ventriloquists added layers complexity to their acts to out-do one another– employing multiple dummies in one performance, using life-sized, life-like dummies, and finally, mouth-moving puppets. *shudder*
The 20th century brought the end of Vaudeville but it also brought television and radio into our lives. Famous ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen, became one of the first ventriloquists using this new media. He and his dummy Charlie McCarthy arrived on the scene in 1938. In 1947, Buffalo Bob Smith and his cowboy dummy Howdy Doody left radio behind for their own TV show. Paul Winchell had his own show too. His wooden sidekicks were Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. A favorite of mine was ventriloquist Shari Lewis who had Lamb Chop. Lamb Chop was a soft hand puppet, basically a sock head, with a stuffed animal body. Because of Lamb Chop, I had my own puppet when I was little –a sock snake named Sam. lol I never could throw my voice.
If nightmares are your thing, this site has some of the creepiest dummies I have ever seen. I think that Twilight Zone episode I saw as a child still haunts my dreams. lol http://www.houstonpress.com/arts/top-6-creepiest-ventriloquist-dummies-for-national-ventriloquism-week-6370405
Here’s a free PDF download of Nineteenth Century American Ventriloquists
Fun Trivia ~ Ventriloquism and Puppetry
My 100 things will focus on malapropisms and I’ll stick with it until I can’t find any more. From the French mal a propos (meaning inappropriate). Dictionary.com defines malapropisms as an act or habit of misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound.
Here’s one for today:
Having one wife is called monotony
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