Duct Tape!


Here’s another thing the EngiNerds love, and maybe even more than catapults and robots: duct tape. Yes, that ultra sticky, silvery gray stuff that there’s most likely a roll of somewhere in your basement.

Before we get to talking about the actual tape, though, we should probably talk about how to talk about it, seeing as it’s been a controversy that’s been raging for decades . . .

“Duct Tape” vs. “Duck Tape”

There are a number of theories out there about the origins of the terms “duct tape” and “duck tape,” and the proponents of them all (especially the makers of the tape themselves) can get pretty fierce. The only thing that all sides agree on is that the stuff we know today as duct tape or duck tape first appeared and became prevalent during World War II.

World-class word nerd Jan Freeman, writing in The Boston Globe, gathered up a handful of the most popular theories: the one that claims “duck tape” refers to the cotton duck fabric backing of the original adhesive, or the one that claims it refers to the tape’s waterproof properties, moisture wicking off its silvery skin like water off a duck’s back. There’s even a theory that claims the name derives from the amphibious DUKW (called “duck”) boats that were used during WWII and that can now be seen carting tourists all over Boston.

duck tour

No one can agree – and, more importantly, no one can prove for certain – whether it’s “duct tape” or “duck tape.” But at the end of the day, what you call it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you keep a roll of it handy at all times, because the uses of the stuff are pretty much endless.

What Can’t You Do With Duct Tape?

The list of things you can’t do with duct tape is probably shorter than the list of things you can do with it. Just ask Tim Nyberg and Jim Berg, the so-called “Duct Tape Guys,” who have written half a dozen books (!) on what they affectionately and not all that hyperbolically call “The Ultimate Power Tool.”

tape book

Surely you’re familiar with duct tape’s usual uses – sealing and securing and the like. But that’s just the boring, obvious stuff, the equivalent of Clark Kent’s work as a reporter at the Daily Planet. Hidden in every roll of duct tape is a world of more exciting, unusual, and even superheroic possibilities.

Maybe, for instance, you’ve seen someone whip out a duct tape wallet. Or maybe you’ve seen someone using a smart phone or iPod that’s protected by a duct tape case. But duct tape has also been used to make sandals and neckties and even entire prom dresses and tuxedos. You might find a duct tape hammock in a crafty do-it-yourself-er’s backyard, or duct tape covers on their couch cushions. Open their refrigerator, and you might see some duct tape shelving, and over in the cabinets there might be stacks of duct tape cups and bowls and plates. Legend has it that someone once dove out of an airplane with nothing but a duct tape parachute to ensure they made it to the ground safely, and the MythBusters – a pair of EngiNerds par excellence – once used duct tape to build a bridge, and another time to lift a whole car.


If you need any more convincing as to duct tape’s strength, reliability, and versatility, consider this: NASA, a group of well-prepared brainiacs if there ever was one, has made sure there’s a roll of the stuff on board every mission since way back in the 1960s. Duct tape is even credited with saving the lives of the three astronauts aboard the famous Apollo 13 flight. In an interview back in 2005, Ed Smylie, one of the engineers responsible for coming up with the lifesaving solution to the problems the Apollo 13 astronauts faced, claimed that as soon as he confirmed there was a roll of duct tape on the shuttle, “I felt like we were home free.” He went on to add, “One thing a Southern boy will never say is, ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it.’” Which, it just so happens, is one thing an EngiNerd will never say, either.

The Future of Duct Tape

There are undoubtedly dozens, probably hundreds, and maybe even millions of uses for duct tape that have yet to be discovered. And as our world continues to change, pretty much only one thing remains the same: there will always be a place for duct tape. Just think about it – a decade ago, there was no such thing as an iPhone, and now duct tape can be used to make a safe and (if you buy a roll of the fancy colored, patterned, or glow-in-the-dark kind) stylish case for one.

So call it “duct tape” or “duck tape” or “sticky silver stuff” or whatever else you want. Just make sure you always keep a roll of it handy, since you never know when it just might save the day.

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