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Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children

Fred Rogers had an uncanny ability to connect with young children through his show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Or maybe it wasn't so uncanny. Rogers put in a lot of work to make sure everything he said was something a child could understand. That wasn't easy, since children lack the years of language practice and references that adults have. Rogers went over every line in a script, consulted with childhood experts, and even reshot dialogue that he later found troubling from a child's point of view.

As Arthur Greenwald, a former producer of the show, put it to me, “There were no accidents on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” He took great pains not to mislead or confuse children, and his team of writers joked that his on-air manner of speaking amounted to a distinct language they called “Freddish.”

Fundamentally, Freddish anticipated the ways its listeners might misinterpret what was being said. For instance, Greenwald mentioned a scene in a hospital in which a nurse inflating a blood-pressure cuff originally said “I’m going to blow this up.” Greenwald recalls: “Fred made us redub the line, saying, ‘I’m going to puff this up with some air,’ because ‘blow it up’ might sound like there’s an explosion, and he didn’t want the kids to cover their ears and miss what would happen next.”

Eventually, a couple of the show's writers jotted down the rules of "Freddish," representing the process of refining a simple line of dialogue to make it perfect for Mister Rogers' audience. You can read that process at The Atlantic.

(Image credit: Flickr user Rogelio A. Galaviz C.)

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I just saw the documentary on Mr. Rogers, "Won't You Be My Neighbor" and highly recommend it. It's a wonderful film, first of all, and just to hear about a person who cared so much about others and was so kind and thoughtful reduced me to tears.
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