Power of Babel

updated 08/28/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/28/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dining on the road is never a problem for Gregg Cox. He can order a danish in Danish or a pigeon in Pidgin. He also can talk turkey in Turkey and, if necessary, discuss garlic in Gaelic.

Cox, in fact, can speak 64 languages fluently, making him, says Guinness World Records, the planet's greatest linguist. "People are so surprised—not that I speak so many languages," says Cox, 37, an international marketing manager for a dental products firm who lives in Germany with his wife, Sabine, 34, and Trischa, their 4-year-old, "but that I'm an American and speak so many languages."

"Mr. Cox can be extremely proud," says Guinness rep Neil Hayes, noting that the Oregon native broke the old record of 58, held jointly by a Brazilian and a New Zealander now deceased. The son of David, a fruit processor, and Virginia, a homemaker, Cox developed his lust for lingo after his parents divorced when he was 5 and he moved with his mother to polyglot Los Angeles, where he acquired a multinational array of friends. Starting with Spanish, Cox learned Portuguese, Italian, German and a little Chinese. "By 12," he says, "I was so addicted to languages that my mom started taking my dictionaries away."

Eight years in the military allowed him to add nearly 30 tongues, and since his job requires considerable travel, he learns about another five a year. Appropriately, Cox is compiling a multilingual glossary. "When I tell people I'm writing a book, they get excited," he says. "Until I tell them it's a dictionary."

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