Ida, be obnoxious
May 1, 2015 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Vocal fry (previously) is an auditory tic associated, currently, with young women (although it is by no means a new phenomenon or a female-exclusive one). That said, the prevalence of vocal fry may be growing in young women--which has implications for the prevalence of vocal fry across English speakers, since young women are linguistic trendsetters. Given all that, it's a shame that vocal tics like vocal fry and uptalk are so frequently criticized as a specifically female phenomenon--imposing an extra cost of vocal self-monitoring on female professionals.
posted by sciatrix (170 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
I have lately heard a surprising number of young men using uptalk when interviewed on NPR...?
posted by djeo at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I blame Ira Glass.
posted by jb at 7:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


One of my favorite parts of the movie "In A World..." was [SPOILER] where the main character, a female voice coach, stopped judging and mocking women whose voices read to her as "overly feminine" and instead started coaching them on how to modify their voices/affects for professional advancement in various careers (even while telling them that such modifications being necessary for professional advancement was sucky and sexist).

I also especially like this part of the Columbia piece:

"Though employers may point to voice coaching as a solution, it’s not uptalk or pitch that’s holding women back. It’s the societal values that say a low voice is better than a high one, that a man’s voice is inherently more authoritative than a woman’s. The workforce is still struggling to listen to female voices. Perhaps some coaching in listening is in order."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [39 favorites]


I had vocal fry on my list of things to not spend any time fretting about, but now I have to take it off because sexism?
posted by Segundus at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I blame Ira Glass.

Not only is that a good bet in any situation, it occurs to me that it would also serve as a universal caption for New Yorker cartoons.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:41 AM on May 1, 2015 [42 favorites]


Guy Raz. He fries everything to a crisp. I can't listen to the TED Radio Hour because of it*.

As with salary negotiations and everything else women do, whatever it is, it's badly done if women are doing it and women are considered to be doing it badly even when they're not because duh: women. I'm thinking this is why people call Hillary Clinton "shrill" when in actuality she's mostly using her lower register.

*To be fair, Guy Raz is only one of about 5,978 reasons I can't stand The TED Radio Hour.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:44 AM on May 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


A friend of mine was telling me about how her boss wouldn't let her say anything during meetings, so I had to be all like Kramer and hit her with the hard news.. "It's probably the amount of times you say "Like" and all of the upspeak."
posted by ReeMonster at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Uptalk to me is a weird symptom of the increasing isolation you see, particularly in young people. It's as though individuals have very little shared / common experience with those around them, so everything has to be stated provisionally (hence the questioning uptalk).

This video has made the rounds on the web a few times, but I think it's a fascinating look into how people used to communicate with one another. This follow-up makes the point even better - look at the flat affect on the kids, and the deer-in-the-headlights look they have when asked to engaged in basic conversation.

I'm 30 and remember a little of that world, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we've lost something in the last 20 years or so.
posted by corcovado at 8:01 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I have the opposite problem of upspeak, I always have trouble enunciating questions so that people recognize that I'm not stating a fact. I often end up following my question with "that was a question".
posted by octothorpe at 8:11 AM on May 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Tangential, possibly related, possibly not:

For some reason I've noticed a thing with working chefs or cooks where they seem to speak with a bit of sort of phlegmy, gravelly sort of fry, especially when talking about food or while working.

And for some reason I started doing it, too, and it's weird and not like me, because my vocal pitch is normally a bit, uh, pressured, clipped and manic even among really nerdy nerds who tend to communicate like modems.

It seems to be related to being consistently hungry and salivating because you're basically either constantly thinking about food, making food or tasting food.
posted by loquacious at 8:12 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


vocal tone is so weird. And how we decide so much about a person based on it, as opposed to just you know, trying to hear them. In a way it's an extrasensory way of hearing I guess? Which is cool.But it pains me that people have to work on their tone to ensure they can succeed at basic stuff like work. Would be cool if we could work on our tone and I guess appreciated for figuring out how to a cool thing with your voice that sounds awesome and unique to you. But no, it's always a problem, getting in the way, limiting you, pegging you, defining you, opening doors for you. It's never like, just a cool part of you that people can appreciate for what it is.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:20 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


A few writers I admire (most notably, Anne Helen Petersen) have adopted vocal fry as a sort of feminist phenomena. I understand that women are criticized for vocal tics (such as fry, upspeak, and Valley-speak) in a way that men are not, and that viewing those tics in a feminist context is worthwhile.

HOWEVER. Listening to someone with vocal fry speak doesn't strike me as "masculine" or "vulgar" so much as it strikes me as "suffering from a bad sore throat/head cold" -- or, to be more precise, phlegmy. I have a strong visceral reaction to people who have vocal fry because it sounds like they're about to hack up a lung. The fact that vocal fry has become such a feminist Thing -- particularly among Tumblr-savvy millennial women -- bugs me.
posted by pxe2000 at 8:23 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't know what it says about me, but I like vocal fry. (It probably says that I grew up around people in the Miami who used it and so I think it's normal. Go Miami!)
posted by oddman at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I feel like I've been hearing people talk about this 'vocal fry' thing as if I should find it horrible, and none of them has actually explained what it is. They just complained about it as if it was a thing everyone was aware of and hated.

And now having checked the links and heard a recorded example my reaction is "I can't fucking believe anyone on earth who is not a singing coach actually cares about this."
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:26 AM on May 1, 2015 [58 favorites]


And now having checked the links and heard a recorded example my reaction is "I can't fucking believe anyone on earth who is not a singing coach actually cares about this."

Likewise. It's feminist by default, because who the fuck cares. let's not give women a hard time for YET ANOTHER thing they must change about their natural physical being.

I've listened to clips for vocal fry and I must say... get over it. If it bugs you that much you must have a permanent headache. Or need another cup of coffee.
posted by easter queen at 8:32 AM on May 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


Fry is a poppy-burbly sound that goes with using a vocal register that is lower than your voice can support, and so the tone breaks up, rather than coming out smoothly.
posted by wotsac at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ladies, stop raising your pitch at the ends of your sentences.

No, too low! Stop that.

Tell you what, how about you just go back to not talking and focus on looking pretty. You're doing speech wrong.
posted by bibliowench at 8:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [68 favorites]


I feel like I've been hearing people talk about this 'vocal fry' thing as if I should find it horrible, and none of them has actually explained what it is.

After hearing all the complaining about it, I had to watch maybe a half-dozen YouTube videos to actually isolate what was going on and eventually I figured it out but have yet to figure out how this is a problem of the speaker and not the person with the weird hang-up about how people speak.
posted by griphus at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


HOWEVER. Listening to someone with vocal fry speak doesn't strike me as "masculine" or "vulgar" so much as it strikes me as "suffering from a bad sore throat/head cold" -- or, to be more precise, phlegmy. I have a strong visceral reaction to people who have vocal fry because it sounds like they're about to hack up a lung. The fact that vocal fry has become such a feminist Thing -- particularly among Tumblr-savvy millennial women -- bugs me.


It's a Thing because the people who study this -- linguists, particularly sociolinguists-- have shown, time and time again, that people's reactions to speech are almost entirely grounded in the general attitudes about the people who uses those particular types of speech.

"Vocal fry" is not getting criticized because its in any way objectively worse sounding than any other way of speaking. The "no means" link describes pretty thoroughly and accurately how common "vocal fry" is. "Vocal fry" is getting criticized because young women are doing it, and anything young women do must be a Bad Thing, pure and simple (see previously "uptalk", quotative "like).

Find me outrage over vocal fry that predates the explicit connection between it and young women that's not from, say, an acting coach, and I'll believe that it's not, but until then, it's pretty cut and dry what's going on.
posted by damayanti at 8:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [30 favorites]


Omg I wrote this 2011
posted by The Whelk at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


As someone who will often amuse myself by making my speech a monotone vocal fry as low as possible while still being intelligible, I approve of this trend.

And I'm 100% sure it's not just me, lot of men of all ages do this all the time too. Who the fuck is so invested in policing how young women speak to make this an issue? Bibliowench is on the right track, methinks. You're so much prettier when you don't speak, ladies. What horseshit.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:39 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Could this be the dread Patty and Thelma syndrome?
posted by boilermonster at 8:39 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uptalk to me is a weird symptom of the increasing isolation you see, particularly in young people.

Except? Like you know there are lots of jokes and like stuff? About up talking? From the early 80s? In Valley Girl speak? Like really? Before you where born I think?
posted by The Whelk at 8:40 AM on May 1, 2015 [44 favorites]


There is a level at which vocal fry bothers me, and this level is generally done by actors while acting (usually as women from 15-30) or sometimes doing interviews. Searching for good video examples of natural usage is just full of HOW GIRLS ARE DESTROYING ENGLISH.
posted by jeather at 8:41 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I found out if you push vocal fry to the limit as a guy you can end up sounding like a passable Winchester sibling.


As for personal conversational tone I've decided the most affected, fakes the mid century kid Atlantic voice was the best, it's so obviously fake it can't be mistaken for anything real.
posted by The Whelk at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's only a problem of the speaker when the speaker is trying to create a new ear-boring NPR vocal acrobatic trick and making his vocal chords snap like a twanged rubber band at the beginnings of words. IOW, when it's Guy Raz. Goodness heavens, no, it's not Patty and Selma! They've got smokers' voices. Watch that 1987 7-11 video to learn how to achieve the effect. If everybody on NPR talked like Patty and Selma I would listen avidly.
posted by Don Pepino at 8:43 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Is there any actual research done re: the idea that uptalk is reflecting a mental state of constant uncertainty/confusion or is that the just-so story that it seems?
posted by griphus at 8:45 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I don't think I'm alone or cranky for disliking uptalk--although I can't find it in myself to blame the speaker. However...vocal fry? It's not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, I kind of like it.

But the media fries the phenomenon. Here's a great analysis of this, featuring the previously mentioned Ira Glass.

Want more? Here's a menu of vocal fry entries from Language Log.
posted by kozad at 8:46 AM on May 1, 2015


I still don't really understand what vocal fry is, and it doesn't seem to matter how many examples I'm given. I don't really suspect that this is a giant elaborate sitewide troll but i also kind of do help
posted by poffin boffin at 8:48 AM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Coincidentally, as a secondary English speaker, I've found myself speaking in a higher pitch in English than in my native language and then having to intentionally fry/lower my pitch.
posted by Therapeutic Amputations at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2015


As both a college professor constantly exposed to new generations of young speakers and a linguistics guy, I have also lately noticed vocal fry has crossed the gender gap.
posted by spitbull at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find vocal fry very annoying in my life right now. And it has nothing to do with social issues...it's just that I'm trying to measure some syllables in Korean, and some of them should be breathy-voiced but because vocal fry is so common across lots of different young people (including, apparently, Korean-American males between the ages of 18-24), all of my syllables are creaky (i.e. all of them have an amount of vocal fry). Oh, the life of a phonetician...when "vocal-fry" is a thing that dominates your life, maybe it's time to rethink academia.... :)
posted by k8bot at 8:51 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I still don't really understand what vocal fry is, and it doesn't seem to matter how many examples I'm given.

This is the best example I can find, she sort of turns it on and off and isn't talking about how it is horrible and anyone who speaks like that should be killed. It isn't a great one, though.
posted by jeather at 8:52 AM on May 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


I don't think I'm alone or cranky for disliking uptalk--although I can't find it in myself to blame the speaker.

I find it very easy to blame the speaker for whatever irritating vocal crap they've got going on if the speaker is someone whose job it is to speak. It's the most important tool of the trade. They should know how to work it.

(Dear Ira Glass: Get that weird thing that makes you say "This Ameriking Life" speech therapied out already.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Danny's not here Mrs. Torrance."
posted by Atom Eyes at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


Everybody should just adopt Paget Brewster's mid-Atlantic accent she uses as Sadie Doyle and everything would be 1000% better.

"I'll have a giraffe, no, a ZEBRA, no, no, a LION..."
*clink*
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 8:55 AM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is the best example yt I can find

YES that is excellent altho if someone had just said "it's like that video of alaska thunderfuck on hey qween!" i would have understood immediately.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Again, I don't hate vocal fry because young women. I have a strong visceral reaction to vocal fry because it makes the speaker sound like s/he is recovering from strep throat.

A better question would be "why do women feel like they need to sound as though they've come down with a virus and are in need of antibiotics in order to be taken seriously?"
posted by pxe2000 at 8:57 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I find it very easy to blame the speaker for whatever irritating vocal crap they've got going on if the speaker is someone whose job it is to speak.

The problem is that irritating vocal crap seems to be however women (typically young women) talk and the same thing in men is not so irritating.

A better question would be "why do women feel like they need to sound as though they've come down with a virus and are in need of antibiotics in order to be taken seriously?"

If they use their normal register, it's too high pitched and not serious enough. Can't win.
posted by jeather at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2015 [24 favorites]


I suppose I'm the only person out there who is just naturally prone to coughing up phlegm no matter what I do then? I mean I'm sorry if it impacts how people hear me but, uh, as long as I am not hacking up a gobbet of phlegm right in front of you I kind of expect people to shut up with the judgement
posted by sciatrix at 9:03 AM on May 1, 2015 [13 favorites]


The problem is that irritating vocal crap seems to be however women (typically young women) talk and the same thing in men is not so irritating.

Yeah. That's because it is more irritating. Because it's a higher frequency. When (most) men do it, it's like a cat purring. When (most) women do it, it's like someone scraping their fingertip against an inflated balloon. As much as it would be great to just say "sexism!" and leave it at that, men and women have differences in their voices. Male vocal fry is still a problem, and vocal training -- radio personalities used to do vocal training, because it's their fucking job -- will get rid of it, among other things.

Just speak up. That's really all there is to fixing vocal fry.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:03 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


As a counterpoint, I am a man who will frequently employ vocal fry in a manner that will make an interlocutor want to stab me in the throat.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2015



If they use their normal register, it's too high pitched and not serious enough. Can't win.


Also women who don't do a perky uptalk OR use vocal fry are criticized as surly and monotonous, like Kristen Stewart.

basically if you are a woman and you do a thing you are wrong, always.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2015 [50 favorites]


Everyone is driving everyone else nuts. If it's not your horrible voice, it's your stupid hat or you're drinking the wrong beer or you hung the toilet paper backwards. It's like we have Bitch Eating Crackers Syndrome on a society-wide scale. What is going on?
posted by theodolite at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2015 [30 favorites]


I always associate vocal fry with Bill Clinton. I find it annoying when he does it, because he's had so much experience with public speaking and should be able to modulate his voice.

I learned how to use the lower registers (chest voice) on the high school speech team, not because higher women's voices aren't acceptable, but because it allows you to project more.
posted by caryatid at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I understand that women are criticized for vocal tics (such as fry, upspeak, and Valley-speak) in a way that men are not, and that viewing those tics in a feminist context is worthwhile.

I don't know; I think it's possible to be a little irritated by things like uptalk or vocal fry for idiosyncratic reasons (rather than as a manifestation of, e.g., sexism, although sexism probably does explain a lot of the negative response to these things).

For instance, I'm even more irritated by Young Adult Male Forced Casual Bluster, a hard-to-describe but instantly-recognizable speech and gestural pattern common among college-aged men. (I teach college, and YAMFCB makes it extremely difficult to explain something to someone, because they are putting on an elaborate pointless show instead of thinking.)

Another irritating socially-acquired physical habit often on display on university campuses: the Dudebro Saunter, clogging up walkways and aggravating misanthropy.

My annoyance is with the fact that this type of thing is exactly the opposite of "a cool part of you that people can appreciate for what it is". It's just something lots of people do because of social conditioning, and a weird reminder that people are predisposed to disindividuate themselves in order to feel like they belong, to the extent that it happens (presumably, in the case of speech patterns or modes of physical carriage etc.) involuntarily. Doing something, unexaminedly, as a result of repeated exposure to lots of other people doing it is essentially axiomatically not "a cool part of you". There's nothing wrong with it -- it seems likely that most of our behaviour arises this way -- but it seems like a strange thing to focus on or celebrate.

What bothers me (but only a little) about uptalk, or vocal fry (I just learned this phrase, but it's a great descriptor), or the aforementioned YAMFCB and DS, or any other group-membership signalling, pretty much, is that it throws in my face that I'm dealing with a person whose affiliations are so vital to who they are that they are one of the main signals that the person broadcasts. They are forcing me to deal with their army by dealing with them; everything has to happen on their terms, because, they implicitly tell me, they have backup. I find people like that (maybe this means most people) tiresome to deal with. That's entirely my problem, not theirs, and it's my responsibility to prevent this problem from affecting how I treat people, but I don't think it's my specifically sexist problem.

In particular, as a dude who avoided picking up on many socially-conditioned masculine-coded behaviour, I find socially-conditioned masculine-coded behaviour considerably more irksome and stupid than someone doing subconscious vocal-chord gymnastics because everyone else does, but I would prefer in general that people exhibited fewer stereotyped behaviours. That's not going to happen, so my irritation is my problem, but I don't see the need to, like, champion such behaviours. I'd rather people were given space to actually individuate themselves, and were subject to less pointless social discipline.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:10 AM on May 1, 2015 [14 favorites]


The insidious thing about vocal fry is that it can have a permanent physiological effect on your voice mechanism, which is not the case with uptalking, etc. I would disagree with some of the proposed definitions of vocal fry, however, which doesn't only happen at the end of sentences. Vocal fry is a kind of "half vocalization" that is only partially pitched, and makes the characteristic sound by alternating an extremely forceful closure of the vocal folds with a slackening of the vocal folds to create the characteristic popping/scraping noise.

As a professional user of the voice, I am especially attuned to speech habits, albeit casually rather than scientifically. It has been interesting to see various speech habit fads come and go over the years and it does seem to be the case that many of them are primarily adopted by young women, or at least most easily observed in their speech. I can remember back in the 80s when Demi Moore's career took off that many of the girls at my high school suddenly developed persistently hoarse speaking voices. Then, of course, the uptalking thing happened. This is a speech habit that casual observation suggests had wide geographical distribution among young American women but among young men was mostly a west coast thing. After uptalking began to decline, I started noticing what I can only call "prepubescent" or "juvenile" speech habits in a generation of young American women. I would characterize this as an unusually high pitched speaking voice combined with an elevated larynx and overall shallow resonance, producing a vocal sound that is not unlike that of a little girl. I couldn't say for sure, but have often wondered if this speech habit was influenced by the voiceovers used for cartoons that were popular among this generation as they were growing up (e.g., Powerpuff Girls). Especially on the telephone, it is frequently difficult to tell the difference between a grown woman with this habit and a nine year old girl. That, thankfully, seems to be on the decline and is now being replaced by vocal fry as the speech habit du jour, which seems reasonably equally distributed between younger men and women.

Many of these speech fads do seem to be more prevalent among female speakers, and seem to persist into adulthood more commonly among female speakers. Some of this may be explainable by the fact that certain habits, such as "juvenile voice," are not possible for males. But I wonder if any of it may also have somewhat to do with the fact that males undergo much greater change to the voice instrument through puberty. The fact that male speakers must effectively "re-learn" how to use the voice instrument may result in them dropping speech habits acquired during childhood at greater rates. In addition, the desire to sound "masculine," probably incentivizes male speakers to drop speech habits that may have the effect of making them sound immature. Vocal fry may have more even distribution among male and female speakers because it can be incorporated into an overall "mature masculine" speech presentation by men, whereas things like uptalking and "juvenile voice" cannot.

It's also worthy of note that there are several annoying speech habits that are employed almost entirely by men. One of the ones I dislike the most is what I will call the "James Earl Jones effect." In short, it is used by men who speak at or even below the lowest pitch level their voice instrument can sustain. This not only robs their speech of any downward vocal inflection, but because they cannot phonate efficiently on those pitches they either adopt a soft "grandfatherly" habit that has no carrying power and is difficult to hear, or must resort to an aggressively loud and hammering habit that is unpleasant to listen to.
posted by slkinsey at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Anyway my voice creaks/cracks/crackles a lot, wholly beyond my control (my vocal cords get like beef jerky from the cortisone shots for my arthritis), and the fact that it might annoy men is just a bonus to me, tbh.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:12 AM on May 1, 2015 [19 favorites]


Someday I am going to detatch a retina from rolling my eyes too hard at the Country Dad Rumble voice you hear in beer and truck commercials all the time.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


It bugs me seeing people describe these vocal tools as tics and affectations. They're tools. They are used to convey information. In both cases, fry and uptalk, most of the criticisms are pretty explicitly sexist, and based on the assumption that they're frivolous or superfluous simply because women are perceived to use them more.*

Uptalk maybe does have a connotation of not being confident, but confidence can be a very bad thing. Overconfidence is the cause of a huge number of our big societal ills and little fuckups. We need self-doubt and reflection. The questioning tone signals a kind of open-mindedness and willingness to listen to others. (Not that it's always used that way, but the tone does seem to imply that.) It's actually quite a nice tool, and it's funny how it's so often blustery old white guys mansplaining why it's such a horrible thing. They're really showing their asses on that.

Vocal fry is, just, what? Everyone does this all the time. It's so weird to me when people act as though it's some big horrible new annoying thing, and it makes me suspect that the complainers are sometimes just looking for an excuse to be annoyed by a specific person or group of people. (By which I mean young women, of course.) I'm right now coincidentally listening to Nina Simone singing Mississippi Goddam, and she's dipping into vocal fry here and there to pretty powerful effect. Applied judiciously, vocal fry is pretty cool. (Overdoing it can make my throat itchy, too, though, but it's usually men who have that effect on me, so it's probably misandry.)

Of course, as an intermediary measure, women might individually need to temper their speech just to get by for now, but collectively, we probably should be looking long and hard at the motivations and underlying assumptions behind why we have these silly sexist conventions that make that sort of thing necessary.

*Although, my two go-tos for demonstrating those phenomenon are both men:

Frank Ocean in Songs for Women demonstrates a vast range of vocal fry from subtle all the way over into that bottom of the throat croaking thing (in the "like la-da-da-da-DAAAAAH" line).

And for uptalk? If you are in the US and have Netflix? Watch a minute or two of Mark Cousins' narration of The Story of Film? But? This interview demonstrates it a little?
posted by ernielundquist at 9:17 AM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Someday I am going to detatch a retina from rolling my eyes too hard at the Country Dad Rumble voice you hear in beer and truck commercials all the time.

They just want so desperately to be Sam Elliott. And really, deep down, don't we all?
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:20 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just want his mustache.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


the same thing in men is not so irritating

I can only speak for myself, but I find all sorts of vocal tics irritating regardless of the speaker's gender. If anything, valley-speak emanating from a random guy in a suit is even more flustering to me. Accents, drawls, fry, upspeak, Valley-speak, etc. — all of it drives me nuts.

I've spent a lot of time separating the messages from the speakers, but I reserve the right to still think certain vocal patterns are ridiculous and annoying. (For example, I would rather do 10,000 other things than listen to a southern US accent for any length of time.)

As with most things, your mileage may vary.
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I started noticing what I can only call "prepubescent" or "juvenile" speech habits in a generation of young American women. I would characterize this as an unusually high pitched speaking voice combined with an elevated larynx and overall shallow resonance, producing a vocal sound that is not unlike that of a little girl.

That would be Sexy Baby Voice.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:23 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The key to peace and joy in life is to ruthlessly curtail the habit of getting annoyed at things people do which aren't actually harming you or anyone else.
posted by straight at 9:25 AM on May 1, 2015 [31 favorites]


I wonder if other animals have this problem. Like birds complaining to one another how that other bird from two trees over is always going chirp-CHEE-CHEE-chirp-CHEE instead of chirp-CHEE-CHEE-CHIRP-chee and it's really nothing personal but it's just so clearly and obviously irritating.
posted by griphus at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2015 [16 favorites]


Busted_crayons: I guess what I was saying poorly is: People are gender policed to the point they stop examining their self expression and go with the herd because it *seems* safer, but then they discover the policing still happens. I was trying to say that by developing a unique way of expressing yourself because you've examined what you wish to be in the world free of all the bullshit gendered judgement, bias and fears builds a better "you".

To wit: Attaching "bad vocal characteristics" to young females *is* gender policing (which is exactly what this FPP inadvertently contributes to) and in my opinion, is part of what we all do that reinforces the tendency for gender coded herds to emerge at mass scales. To then further criticize those gender coded herds for being what they become is not looking at the root of the issue and fixing it, it's just more complaining along the same gender lines. We ALL need to stop stereotyping gender characteristics and start mitigating the gender biases programmed into us. Which a lot commenters in this thread are actively doing, and I applaud that. Hugs mefi.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:29 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Is there any actual research done re: the idea that uptalk is reflecting a mental state of constant uncertainty/confusion or is that the just-so story that it seems?"

It's folklore and it's false.

Mark LIberman and other linguists at Language Log have written about both uptalking and vocal fry extensively. Uptalking is complex and varied -- it's complex in that it's associated with or signals many different things. It can be slightly questioning, of course, but it also works as a backchannel device and other things. And it's varied in that rising intonation at the end of sentences is just a dialectical variation in many languages and dialects, including in English. In Northern Ireland (hi, billiebee!) it's nearly universal among all speakers. Here's one good LL post on the topic from 2008 -- as you can see from that previous link, there's dozens of LL posts about uptalking and I'm sure there are some that are better. That one is just the first one I found that seemed pretty comprehensive.

"I still don't really understand what vocal fry is, and it doesn't seem to matter how many examples I'm given. I don't really suspect that this is a giant elaborate sitewide troll but i also kind of do help"

Here's a comprehensive post about vocal fry and creak by Liberman with a lot of technical detail, including examples and sonograms and some discussion of the phonetics and physiology involved.

As for the utterly wrong and stupid judgmentalism about uptalking and vocal fry, they are exactly like all other language peeving in that it's both amazingly factually untrue while being widely believed and unjust and oppressive. Uptalking and fry aren't specific to women, uptalking doesn't always/usually have the semantic content that people assume it has, for most speakers uptalking and fry are not affectations, fry and creak are not "damaging" to the voice, and they're not part of a UN conspiracy to take away our freedoms and our precious bodily fluids.

Also, as usual, they are stigmatized only insofar as they are associated with relatively lower-status groups while such usages by relatively higher-status groups are ignored and are not the object of a cultural panic of the moment. Insisting that the lack of these speech features is what is "normal" and being "helpful" in recommending that speakers avoid them is being an oppressive jerk.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:32 AM on May 1, 2015 [23 favorites]


The insidious thing about vocal fry is that it can have a permanent physiological effect on your voice mechanism, which is not the case with uptalking, etc.

Nope, nope, nope.

There are languages out there that use glottalization as a way of marking contrasts between words (so, say bat with and without a glottalized vowel would be two different words), and those speakers are fine. English speakers "fry" at the end of utterances all the time, and there's no epidemic going on. Unless you are literally glottalizing everything, it's not going to damage your voice, and even the heaviest "vocal fry" users are not at the level that's going to cause them harm.

Vocal fry is a kind of "half vocalization" that is only partially pitched, and makes the characteristic sound by alternating an extremely forceful closure of the vocal folds with a slackening of the vocal folds to create the characteristic popping/scraping noise.


Also, no. "Vocal fry", as its commonly described, is slow, irregular alternations of the vocal folds, and even that might not be exactly right, as low frequencies can sound like "fry" even without any irregular alternations:

One perceptual issue is the auditory equivalent of the visual "flicker fusion threshold". If regular impulse-like oscillations in air pressure are fast enough, we hear them as a tone; as they get slower and slower, we can increasingly separate the individual pressure pulses as independent events. The threshold at which the pulses fuse into a tonal percept is called "auditory flutter fusion" or sometimes "auditory flicker fusion". The transition between separation and fusion is a gradual one, and in the boundary region, we can hear the pattern in both ways, sometimes as what is called a "creak" sound, because it sounds like the creaking of a sticky hinge.

The other issue is the perceptual effect of pressure oscillations that are irregular as well as relatively low in frequency. Large amounts of random local variation in period sound like the sound of frying food, as bubbles of steam randomly form and pop here and there.


posted by damayanti at 9:42 AM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


It's my hope women band together to create voices so low they can be used to shatter stone when used en masse.
posted by The Whelk at 9:46 AM on May 1, 2015 [18 favorites]


It's weird: I keep reading about young women and vocal fry and how ubiquitous and annoying it is. I literally spend all day talking to young women, and I never notice it. I probably hear it all the time, but it doesn't register.

When I first started hearing about this, I sort of freaked out that I might be doing it and not realizing it. And for all I know I am, but I refuse to worry about it, because I do not need more things on which to focus my anxiety.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:48 AM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I remember when everyone used to mock death metal vocals. Quite a few people still do, but at least in the metal community, it is accepted as a valid form of vocalizing. It irritated me how condemnational people were about another form of expression simple because it was different from the mainstream la-la-la style of singing.

Then, after a few years death metal immersion, black metal broke with its high, raspy screeches. I could not stand it. I noted on Usenet that it was weird, it was not powerful, it weakened metal, etc.

Anyway, this is a fairly predictable story, so I'm sure you can guess I later realized what I was doing.

The future will bring other, stranger forms of vocalization, each meaningful to its vocalizers yet alienating to many. You can howling other-dimensional cacophony, or you can just be, like, hey, this is a cool brutal new soundscape.
posted by ignignokt at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


People are gender policed to the point they stop examining their self expression and go with the herd because it *seems* safer, but then they discover the policing still happens. I was trying to say that by developing a unique way of expressing yourself because you've examined what you wish to be in the world free of all the bullshit gendered judgement, bias and fears builds a better "you".

Thanks for clarifying. I don't disagree with that at all.

Attaching "bad vocal characteristics" to young females *is* gender policing (which is exactly what this FPP inadvertently contributes to) and in my opinion, part of what we all do that reinforces the tendency for gender coded herds to emerge at mass scales.

I don't know what "attaching" means, here, I guess. I don't think it's gender policing to observe that certain behaviours are more common among certain groups, although one must be careful not to make some sort of spurious correlation, and it might is probably not useful to articulate those generalities in most contexts. It's declaring them to be "bad" because of who predominantly exhibits them that's problematic.

To clarify, I'm irritated with the predominance of the stereotypical behaviour, not with the people who exhibit it, for exhibiting it, especially when its origin is in the type of social pressure you've described. However, when the person is under comparatively little social pressure to adopt stereotyped behaviour, but does so anyway, then that person becomes irritating. That's why, e.g., the Dudebro Saunter bothers me more than, e.g., uptalking -- the social cost of not imperiously strolling like one owns the place is, in my direct experience, low -- while I have to be more circumspect about, e.g., stereotyped speech patterns like uptalk since I've never been subject to social forces of the magnitude needed to make someone "go with the herd" in that sort of way.
posted by busted_crayons at 9:52 AM on May 1, 2015


In the future we all just make high pitched dolphin like squeals and clicks to direct others to wear the nearest food source is.
posted by The Whelk at 9:52 AM on May 1, 2015 [8 favorites]


When are we going to get on nerds cases for that lisp thing eh? If it's equal opportunity anyway.

Everyone who is not actually Katherine Hepburn is speaking wrong there I said it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:54 AM on May 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


I absolutely loath the idea that all manner of sexism in the workplace will be mitigated if women just try really hard to act like alpha males. We can lean in and speak deeply and have extra firm handshakes and demand raises, but we're still going to be judged harshly and unfairly. Once we fix our voices, there will be some new arbitrary standard of professional behavior that just *coincidentally* happens to affect women more than men.
posted by almostmanda at 9:56 AM on May 1, 2015 [43 favorites]


If young women keep experimenting with ways to modulate their voices they're going to unlock Bene Gesserit powers one of these days and we can't have that.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2015 [33 favorites]


Totally apart from judging uptalk and fry, I think there is a tremendous unexploited opportunity for young people to trend-set again by leaving those affects behind and start speaking as if the meaning of the words, not the tone was the most important thing. Think how radical an impact that could have after a generation of valley-speak inspired affectations. Yes, I am an old fart.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:02 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know what "attaching" means, here, I guess.
Your very next sentence is doing it.
" I don't think it's gender policing to observe that certain behaviours are more common among certain groups"

There's no indication that women do it's more than men, it more likely our gender biases make it seem that way to us.

Thus we attach a negative value to a behavior that we mistakenly believe is more prevalent among women when in reality it is not a predominantly gendered behavior at all. What we are really doing is letting our internalized gender bias misinform us and reinforce the way we judge women more harshly for their behaviors than we do men.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:03 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Indeed, droning monotone is the best, most efficient way of conveying information and holding listeners' attention. I will remember that the next time I, as a young woman, lecture a class.
posted by sciatrix at 10:06 AM on May 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'm sure everyone who's irritated by vocal fry as used by young women just crawls straight up the wall every time Matthew McConaughey trails off at the end of a sentence like he's just used up his very last breath.
posted by tigrrrlily at 10:07 AM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


>>>The insidious thing about vocal fry is that it can have a permanent physiological effect on your voice mechanism, which is not the case with uptalking, etc.

Nope, nope, nope.


Yep, yep, yep. I'm not saying that speaking or singing with focal fry will create a situation in which you can only speak with vocal fry. But the voice instrument, just like all parts of the body, will respond physiologically to the way in which it is employed. This is why, for example, they can look at ancient leg bones and tell that they came from someone who spent a lot of time riding horses. To make another example closer to the subject, if a singer uses excessive subglottal pressure and forceful closure of the vocal folds, the body will respond over time by stiffening the associated cartilages and this will affect characteristics of that singer's voice.

The point I was making is that uptalking is a habit of the pitch contours of speaking. It is possible for an uptalker to have completely "standard" vocal production. On the other hand, vocal fry is a habit of the actual function of the voice instrument, and as such the body will respond. This is no doubt more significant for singers, and especially those working in a style for which clarity of tone is important. But I would still assert that the voice instrument of a habitual and excessive fry talker will be different after a decade compared to the voice instrument of someone who has effectively the same speech habits but without the vocal fry.

>>Vocal fry is a kind of "half vocalization" that is only partially pitched, and makes the characteristic sound by alternating an extremely forceful closure of the vocal folds with a slackening of the vocal folds to create the characteristic popping/scraping noise.

Also, no. "Vocal fry", as its commonly described, is slow, irregular alternations of the vocal folds, and even that might not be exactly right, as low frequencies can sound like "fry" even without any irregular alternations


I think we're saying similar things using a different vocabulary.
posted by slkinsey at 10:09 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


The insidious thing about vocal fry is that it can have a permanent physiological effect on your voice mechanism

There is no research whatsoever showing that vocal fry has any apparent let alone negative physiological effects on the vocal mechanism. It's an old wives tale.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:26 AM on May 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


Vocal fry is so much less annoying than interspersing "umm" and "uhh" between every other word.
posted by fraxil at 10:27 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember when everyone used to mock death metal vocals.

Cookie Monster vocals?
I recently learned the term from a metal musician.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wonder if it would be more acceptable if it didn't have an awful sounding name.

Textured vocalization
Power emphasis
Regal style
posted by cccorlew at 10:33 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


yeah, those vocal pauses we insert into our speech patterns as we try to keep track of our brain and mouth can be very disrupting to an audience trying to keep track of your flow. It's akin bad font kerning or something.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cookie Monster vocals! Country Dad Rumble! This thread rules.

I think Ira Glass says "bewding bwocks" when he could say "building blocks." Am I wrong about that? Is he legit unable to say L? It really seems like another insane NPR affectation but it would really really really be much better if it were not. Can anyone help me stop wanting to stab him? Please help if you can before I cause the police to be called and create permanent physiological effects on my voice mechanism from screaming "asswad," "asswipe," "asstasm," and other asswords at the radio.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:38 AM on May 1, 2015


There's no indication that women do it's more than men, it more likely our gender biases make it seem that way to us.

Actually, I'm just reporting my experience and my reaction to it. My actual claim is that I've observed certain speech patterns much more often among women than men, within a specific demographic of a few hundred people, namely college students I've talked to. I've no doubt that my gender biases result in the formation of unsubstantiated judgements about observed behaviours, but it seems to me -- with the above qualifications, in the specific population I'm reporting on -- that the two speech patterns in question really are more common among women. Also, I suspect that these speech patterns are social in origin (rather than, e.g., somehow biologically determined), but my evidence for that is merely anecdotal: I know numerous people who formerly did not talk that way, who now do.

I don't expect any particular individual to display those patterns because of those observations, and I try to avoid having someone's essentially automatic behaviour influence how I interact with them. Maybe on a large scale, those patterns really are not correlated with gender, but you're basically denying someone else's observation without explaining the procedure for deciding which observations are reliable and which are not.
posted by busted_crayons at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no research whatsoever showing that vocal fry has any apparent let alone negative physiological effects on the vocal mechanism. It's an old wives tale.

I don't have time to do an exhaustive review of the published literature, but my knowledge of the physiology of the voice suffices to tell me that everything you do with your voice has a physiological effect on the vocal mechanism. That's how the body works. I also have several friends and colleagues who are voice scientists and voice therapists, and who would agree that habitual vocal fry over a period of years can have a physiological effect. Here is one easy example of someone in the actual field who notes that, "over time, this can damage the vocal cords."
posted by slkinsey at 10:40 AM on May 1, 2015


I think Ira's glottal 'L' is a Jewish thing, so that's probably where you should aim your invective.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:41 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oooo, damn, if that were true that would eliminate my problem in a single blow. Is there any evidence that it's true, though? I've never heard anyone do it off TAM.
posted by Don Pepino at 10:43 AM on May 1, 2015


That's how the body works.

Except for it isn't. I study communication physiology. There really is no good research showing it leads to damage. There is a lot of stigma and misinformation out there though.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:47 AM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


I think we're saying similar things using a different vocabulary

Not quite; you said:

extremely forceful closure of the vocal folds with a slackening of the vocal folds to create the characteristic popping/scraping noise

The closing are not "extremely forceful" during glottalization; they're just slower and/or irregularly spaced apart. What we hear as "popping" and "scraping" is an artifact of the speed of the vibrations and/or this irregularly.

But I would still assert that the voice instrument of a habitual and excessive fry talker will be different after a decade compared to the voice instrument of someone who has effectively the same speech habits but without the vocal fry.


As Lutoslawski said, there's no evidence for long term use of vocal fry, as it's used by most people, having any physiological effect. The worst I've found is speculation that consistent use, particularly while attempting to speak loudly at the same time could cause harm (see here and here; N.B. that the second link is in a book outlining speech disorders so it's most likely referring to speakers who glottalize almost everything).

Again, seeing as there are languages which make regular and consistent use of glottalization (as a method of vowel production, or in say, glottal stops), it's highly, highly unlikely that the "frying" done by young woman will have any permanent effect on their voice.
posted by damayanti at 10:48 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, see here:

In conclusion, studies on vocal fry are necessary to clarify the distinction between continuous use of vocal fry, which might lead to vocal abuse and the selective use of vocal fry, which is not likely to lead to vocal pathology.

The use by most people is firmly in the second category.
posted by damayanti at 10:49 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Moreover, for the purposes of my complaint, the gender aspect is orthogonal to my irritation. If i saw hundreds of people of all manner of genders displaying the same stereotyped behaviours, that would still be irritating, likely, because most displays of group cohesion generally irritate me. As I said, that's my problem. I just brought it up to indicate that there are numerous reasons why a behaviour can elicit a negative response.
posted by busted_crayons at 10:50 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


If i saw hundreds of people of all manner of genders displaying the same stereotyped behaviours, that would still be irritating, likely, because most displays of group cohesion generally irritate me
I know that you believe this to be true, and for all I know it is true. But you're not acting in a vacuum. Your annoyance is part of a trend. There are tons of articles and think pieces decrying vocal fry, and they're part of a longstanding pattern that has to do with calling out speech patterns that are associated with young women. You may personally have no issues with young women at all, but when you participate in the trend of bashing vocal fry, you are participating in something that stigmatizes young women and makes it harder for them to speak out and be heard in public.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2015 [22 favorites]


This FPP explicitly attaches this specific vocal trait to women and it is another example of how women are policed AND held to a higher standard than men and are unfairly limited in the world because of it. That is what I care about.

What annoys someone on a personal level is their issue not the perceived group's, though I do appreciate the insight into people's lived experiences and how those experiences inform their perspectives on the world at large.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Actually, the FPP is pretty dang fair, I take that back a little.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]




Cookie Monster vocals?

Once again, it's time to dial nein!
posted by tigrrrlily at 11:09 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was wishing I could have unread this...Just now, my high school kids were reading Macbeth out loud, and two young women were reading a long scene between Macduff and Malcolm. Their reading had the last phoneme--or two!--sizzling like bacon. It was very distracting. To me.
posted by kozad at 11:12 AM on May 1, 2015


> the voice instrument, just like all parts of the body, will respond physiologically to the way in which it is employed ... if a singer uses excessive subglottal pressure and forceful closure of the vocal folds, the body will respond over time by stiffening the associated cartilages and this will affect characteristics of that singer's voice. I would still assert that the voice instrument of a habitual and excessive fry talker will be different after a decade compared to the voice instrument of someone who has effectively the same speech habits but without the vocal fry.

Like damayanti said, a problem with this is that what we call "fry" is a distinctive sound in a lot of languages, for instance Danish. As far as I can tell, adult Danes can sing just fine despite decades of speaking their language on a regular basis.

I'm a bit dubious about the idea that vocal fry as used by some English speakers, or Danish stød, causes more stress on the vocal cords than pronouncing the English H sound.
posted by nangar at 11:13 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Vocal fry says, I am young, and you are not. The more articles decry, the more fry. There I've said it! Now I have heard it, it seems to imply a relaxation, possibly states a playfulness that is not inclusive, hence how annoying vocal fry is to older men of conservative stance who don't like to be reminded, they weren't and aren't going to be, invited to the party.
posted by Oyéah at 11:18 AM on May 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


The insidious thing about vocal fry is that it can have a permanent physiological effect on your voice mechanism, which is not the case with uptalking, etc.

This is bullshit. You can't do a thorough review of the published literature because there is no published literature attesting to what you claim. Cites or GTFO.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2015


That sexy baby vocal link that Combustible Edison Lighthouse linked to? Yeah, Lake Bell is ridiculing exaggerated vocal "affectations," but she has a pretty bad case of vocal fry herself. Not that there's anything wrong with that!
posted by kozad at 11:23 AM on May 1, 2015


This is just modified Valley Girl to take out the question-mark. See the thing about Valley Girl was that it was 50% about expressing exasperation; oh my GOD can you BELIEVE that, I am SO SURE.

Vocal fry just flips it; instead of higher/louder, it's lower/growlier. Oh my goddd. can you believe thiiis....

Because teenagers have just had it with you old people. Which is also why it ruffles feathers; it sounds dismissive, negative, judging. And it is! But it will pass and something else will come along, so who caarresss.
posted by emjaybee at 11:25 AM on May 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


After reading all the comments I'm thinking vocal fry is the Jessica Hynes drawl in hashtag mashup city?
/end textual upvoice, no more no less than a slight hint at Australization
posted by glasseyes at 11:35 AM on May 1, 2015


There are plenty of trends in speech and writing that drive me nuts, like "I know, right?" (or the more pithy "right?") "This is true." Answering questions with "So." Inserting "At the end of the day" or "Going forward" at every opportunity.

None of those strike me as being used by a specific demographic in particular (though some may have started out that way before being adopted by everyone). If the argument is that there's not as much of an outcry about their increasing usage... I really wish there was.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:40 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everyone outside privilege (all women, people of color, queer people, trans people, genderqueer people, people who make a living off of work instead of interest) must while in public diligently and skillfully adopt the styles of privilege, knowing those styles even better than the actual privileged do and anticipating what they'll loathe before they start loathing it, all with the knowledge that, however well we fake, our cover will be blown if we fail to anticipate changes, like failing to anticipate how vocal features like fry will be interpreted.

We may do things our own way in private, provided that it doesn't interfere with our public performances.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2015 [9 favorites]


Also, vocal fry isn't new by any means. I'm guessing that this "phenomenon" is 99% Baader-Meinhoff. No one notices it until it's pointed out to them, and then they hear it everywhere. And then use it as an example of how horrible young people are.

But it's always been around. For example, in addition to her goofy mid-Atlantic accent, Kathryn Hepburn fried the fuck out of her sentences...
posted by mr_roboto at 11:45 AM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


"We may do things our own way in private, provided that it doesn't interfere with our public performances."

But, even then, that there's a distinction between the private self and the public self is used to further claims of inauthenticity and affectation. So whatever you do, you're doing it wrong because you're wrong. That's how it works out, because that's how it's meant to work out.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:47 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mae West, too, come to think of it. Serious vocal fry.

Young people these days!
posted by mr_roboto at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is that a high rising terminal or are you just happy to see me.
posted by griphus at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


But, even then, that there's a distinction between the private self and the public self is used to further claims of inauthenticity and affectation. So whatever you do, you're doing it wrong because you're wrong. That's how it works out, because that's how it's meant to work out.

And, unfortunately, because of the material power they hold, we can't even just ignore the motherfuckers. It's a real puzzle.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:55 AM on May 1, 2015


My actual claim is that I've observed certain speech patterns much more often among women than men, within a specific demographic of a few hundred people, namely college students I've talked to.

My actual claim is that among the few hundred people who I've observed make that claim, none of them have actual data to back up their anecdotal impressions so I'm going to assume you're a victim of availability bias unless you show me some numbers.
posted by straight at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a counterpoint, I am a man who will frequently employ vocal fry in a manner that will make an interlocutor want to stab me in the throat.

You too? I thought I was the only one. Sometimes I add a little Jerry Lewis. Even the occasional hello nurse.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2015


I think I've reached peak me: when presented with an article about how some people find vocal fry annoying, my immediate response is "you know what's more annoying than vocal fry? The kyriarchy, that's what!"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2015 [15 favorites]


Well y'all have solved the issue for this here woman because I'm stunned speechless.

The things that happen in your native language while you're away. Wow.

I'd heard of "fry" (creaky voice) a while ago but it was characterized as regional back when. No recollection of people getting all worked up about it. This is like finding out that Eastasia is now at war with Oceania rather than Eurasia.

Fifteen years ago a friend from Chicago and I sat in a bar in Helsinki, Finland, surrounded by Finnish-Finns, Swedish-Finns, Danes, Dutch, and French people. We both spoke clear English for them, and between ourselves jokingly communicated with one-syllable words with hefty vocal fry. "Beer." "Game." "Glass." "Friend." "Job." "Yeah." "Card." "Nah." Managed to convince the others that this was how Americans naturally communicated between themselves.

And seriously, say "yeah" like you normally say it and tell me you ain't got no creak to that. It comes from how "ja" is pronounced in Scandinavian languages and in Dutch, okay, it has creak.
posted by fraula at 12:07 PM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Most prominent example of vocal fry I ever heard was from Joshua Swanson in an audiobook. He gave most of the villains deep voices, and one of the main characters was named Piper,so there was a lot of Piperrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Worst part is I only learned about "vocal fry" halfway through listening, and I didn't notice it before - the curse of knowledge.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:08 PM on May 1, 2015




Everyone outside privilege (all women, people of color, queer people, trans people, genderqueer people, people who make a living off of work instead of interest)

So privilege is just Warren Buffett now? When did that happen?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 12:17 PM on May 1, 2015


That is truly the best thing.
posted by mittens at 12:17 PM on May 1, 2015


I'd heard of "fry" (creaky voice) a while ago but it was characterized as regional back when. No recollection of people getting all worked up about it. This is like finding out that Eastasia is now at war with Oceania rather than Eurasia.

Yeah, when I first learned about fry it was as one of the key markers that distinguishes the northwest-US accent (which I have) from the California accent (which everyone not from the West Coast thinks I have). Rather than as, like, a exciting new thing to hate women for.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:19 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think a case could be made that uptalk actually is the voice of privilege. Similar to how rock and roll is the soundtrack of capitalism.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 12:19 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


So privilege is just Warren Buffett now? When did that happen?
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 12:17 PM on May 1 [+] [!]


It happened over the course of several decades wherein oligarchical control over the United States was solidified and other forms of power (union power, electoral-democratic power) were dismantled if possible and marginalized if not. If you're looking for a specific watershed event, I'd say it was probably the election of Ronald Reagan.

Coincidentally, I've always found the sound of his voice uniquely annoying.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:41 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


A) I speak with some vocal fry, and I have for as long as I can remember. I'm in my late 30s. I also only recently learned to love my voice so fuck all the haters. B) One of the medications I take relaxes my vocal cords and drops a significant portion of my speech into vocal fry range, which I do not like, but can't do anything about it, so fuck all the haters.

In conclusion, fuck all the haters.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:42 PM on May 1, 2015 [11 favorites]






So... I (male) notice I do make a sound like this when I am making a really exasperated groan, but it only seems to work in the middle registers... Going really low results in other failure modes but I can't seem to get the 'fry' effect. And the walls are thin in this apartment so I've probably made all my neighbors think I'm nuts trying it. At any rate, I wonder if part of it's physiological insofar as men and women have to do different things registerwise to get the same effect?

Either that or my vocal cords are just weird.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:55 PM on May 1, 2015


you participate in the trend of bashing vocal fry

I'm not fucking "bashing" anything. I'm reporting that something irritates me, slightly. That's a statement about me and my problems, not a judgement about the thing.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:22 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Coming in to a post about how a lot of people look down on vocal fry and that there's a lot of sexism in this to say that you, personally don't like it for a totally non-sexist reason is sort of douchey, though.
posted by jeather at 2:44 PM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sorry, in future I'll only respond to things in aggregate.
posted by busted_crayons at 2:50 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in Seattle. Everyone fries here. Listen to this interview with Chris Cornell; he fries like he's making bacon, and so does his interviewer. The idea that this is a female-only phenomenon is laughable.
posted by KathrynT at 2:52 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think this started when folks was a holdin' in a big ol' toke, and talked through it. It remains as a part of speech implying pleasure, and adds to the phat voice. Y'all. I don't think it is necessarily a girl thang, more a chill effect of youth culture and a willingness to slow down time, one glottal micro crackle at a time.
posted by Oyéah at 2:59 PM on May 1, 2015


If one is using one's perceptions of hundreds of students to stand in for actual research, one should remember the work of at least Dale Spender and the inherent bias we carry into our memories and perceptions.

IOW you notice it more in women because of bias, not because it is more present in women. Just like interruptions, just like aggression, just like a billion other things women get policed on. There are equivalences in men too, I think - I notice certain mannerisms in my male students more than the female ones, not just feminised ones but also masculinised ones (son, I know you're trying to project assertiveness with that lean forward, hands on the desk thing, just sit down).

I've been working on making my vocalisation clearer, simply because I am spending a lot of time talking over Skype and my internet is not always the greatest and can add its own fry. Also because I'm already kinda nasal.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:24 PM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Huh, this is fascinating. I regularly appear on podcasts and on rare occasions I have some vocal fry, although I didn't know the terminology for it before now. When I first detected it though I thought that it sounded kinda sexy and I made a mental note to ... try and do it more often. Dammit!

Being a woman is hard sometimes, you guys.
posted by jess at 3:43 PM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I dunno, vocal fry can be super tough and dudely if you do it right. But I don't think death growls would go over well in a business meeting.

On preview, I see that ignignokt already addressed this point. Also, I have no problem with vocal fry on NPR, but the way Dina Temple-Raston draws out "Ennnnnnnn....PR News" can drive me up the wall.
posted by Existential Dread at 4:01 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in Seattle. Everyone fries here. Listen to this interview with Chris Cornell; he fries like he's making bacon, and so does his interviewer.

OhMyGod it's the song of my people.

I'm clearly a person out of place.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:04 PM on May 1, 2015


If one is using one's perceptions of hundreds of students to stand in for actual research, one should remember the work of at least Dale Spender and the inherent bias we carry into our memories and perception

Sure, it's probable that my perception is unreliable and in fact these behaviours are uncorrelated with gender, but that doesn't affect the initial point I was trying to make, which is that there are points of view from which various behaviours are irritating regardless of who is exhibiting them, because of what the behaviours themselves signify. If I'm failing to notice men exhibiting the same speech patterns, that's quite problematic, but, even if that's the case, I don't see that irritation with the speech patterns themselves (well, really irritation with what they seem to communicate) is similarly problematic. The Imperious Dudebro Saunter would not cease to be obnoxious if it turned out that, unbeknownst to me, numerous women were also doing it.
posted by busted_crayons at 4:59 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Busted_crayons, your repeated anti-saunter rhetoric has sullied this thread for all of us who find ourselves on the wrong side of the stroll-vs-promenade divide.
posted by mittens at 5:13 PM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


It's a way of speaking that makes people sound thirtyish and will eventually be the province of the same people who will then sound old.
posted by Peach at 5:23 PM on May 1, 2015


Sorry, mittens. However, I am backwards moonwalking out of this thread.


Me: I need a catchy synonym for 'walk'.
Someone nearby: Like 'stroll'?
Me: Yes, but that's taken.
Someone nearby: Moonwalk.
Me: I need it to be forwards.
Someone nearby: Backwards moonwalk.

posted by busted_crayons at 5:24 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you want one (not the only) technical, acoustic indicator of vocal fry: It's when the first harmonic of a complex spectrum is much higher in amplitude than the second one. Or when the amplitudes in a complex spectrum drop off relatively quickly compared to the first harmonic. Here's an illustration of different phonation types (vocal fry = "creaky", the spectrum on the top right).

It's interesting how involved this convo about vocal fry has become! People have some really strong views about the way people sound, I suppose. I sort of want to know HOW MUCH vocal fry people have, and if they modulate depending on context. These are things that could be measured...

A dissertation awaits a sociophonetics person, to be sure.
posted by k8bot at 5:25 PM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


Never noticed vocal fry, but recently during classes with people a decade or two younger than I the uptalk, during their speeches and presentations, was extremely disconcerting, to the point of being distracting from their content, and I wondered why. Leftover regional snobbism from us Westsider beachrats looking down on the Valley kids? Maybe, and probably. But mostly, I think my focus was on the music of it. The tones in upspeak are completely predictable. I could (of course never did) hum along with the sentences, knowing exactly when the scale would go up. The rhythm changed as the sentences did, but the end of the scale remained the same. I could hear no other emphasis. It would have worked if there had been a bridge, as in pop songs. For instance : uptalk uptalkup DECLARATIVE SENTENCE uptalk. But there was never a bridge. The pattern of the sounds took my ear from the content.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:31 PM on May 1, 2015


Ivan Fyodorovich and damayanti, I can only favorite your comments once, but they deserve more. Thank you for being a light in the darkness!

I taught a course that focused on language and identity this semester, and naturally, we spent a lot of time talking about linguistic discrimination. There was simply no avoiding it because it's everywhere in our attitudes toward speech variation -- making it a topic that shouldn't be avoided, anyway.

Let me tell y'all something depressing.

More than one of my students decided to write their essays about vocal fry. These are bright, young, motivated female students at the beginning of their college careers. One of them came into my office to talk about her essay. She had been digging into some articles on attitudes toward vocal fry in particular, and women's speech more generally, and was having trouble making sense of it all. She found a lot of popular pieces about how terrible vocal fry is, including a piece by someone who said he would not hire women with vocal fry.

She told me (paraphrased): "I didn't even know what vocal fry was before I took this class, but now I notice myself doing it a lot. It's really scary to think that I might not get hired or promoted because of something I just do naturally. It's hard not to do it, and I don't really know if I should try."

So, everyone who complains about vocal fry, I say this with the most respect I can muster: You are perpetuating harmful attitudes toward women's speech that could negatively impact the future of young women like my student. I don't care if you think it's just a "pet peeve"; we know (as damayanti explained above) that these pet peeves about language variation are profoundly influenced by prejudices. The meme-like spread of this pet peeve is an excellent illustration of just how socially constructed they are.

The best thing for you to do is to get over it, and if you can't, shut up about it. And definitely do not post folk rationalizations for why it's "bad" that aren't supported by science.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:53 PM on May 1, 2015 [32 favorites]


Also, it should be noted that that page by Reena Gupta (which I have seen before) is terrible, in a sadly amusing way. She started her practice with the assumption that vocal fry "suggested a voice problem," but then says:
"...after years of seeing young women with this pattern in their speaking voice, and seeing relatively normal looking vocal cords, I have begun to question this."
Of course, by questioning this, she means continuing to assume that vocal fry is bad, but that it is "undoubtedly not normal speech and will result in damage." In other words, when her practice confronted her with many young speakers who had normal vocal cords but still had vocal fry, a contradiction to what she believed--she simply decided that the evidence would manifest itself someday.

(Because it must be bad, right?)

This isn't a position she came to because she's familiar with the research on the effect of vocal fry on the vocal cords. As has been mentioned in this thread before, there is no research supporting the idea that normal use of vocal fry causes damage. It's a myth, one that is powerful because it seems "common sense" and supports our prejudices.

In addition, she says it's not "normal"; that is a statement that she can only make if she's profoundly ignorant of the linguistic uses of vocal fry. She assumes it's pathological, but has has been brought up in this thread, there are many languages in which vocal fry is obligatory or at least not stigmatized. It can mark the difference between vowels in some (like Burmese), it can be a mark of refinement (like for some speakers of Greek), and it can mark the boundary of prosodic phrases (in many languages, including English).

We have an incredibly difficult time finding any evidence that any language causes any observable difference in the vocal apparatus, and that includes languages that have more extensive use of vocal fry.

The page is quite frankly not a good source. Dr. Gupta is not writing as a scientist, but as a voice coach.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:20 PM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I like vocal fry because Snog
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:22 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, everyone who complains about vocal fry, I say this with the most respect I can muster: You are perpetuating harmful attitudes toward women's speech that could negatively impact the future of young women like my student.

I think this approach is problematic. In your story, it positions the young woman as a victim of a heretofore unknown oppression, based on "popular pieces." That is, she has not recognized any oppression of herself about this before, but based on reading articles that, one assumes from your use of the word "popular," are not scholarly, are not based on research, has come to believe this form of voice discrimination exists, is pointed at her, and can affect her future. It has thus scared her, without offering tools to question the idea ("Has this ever happened to me or my friends? Is this some crazy fear made up to generate clicks? Is this actually about gender, or is it a more amorphous old-versus-young dynamic, the sort of conservative scare-story that comes along every few months?"), or to reposition herself as a person of power in this relationship ("These stories are just about something my friends and I enjoy doing, that soon everyone except a few frightened old people will enjoy doing...we are, if not trend-setters, at least comfortably mid-trend!" or "There certainly is a long history of this happening...have any marginalized groups ever made a virtue of their particular way of talking, that helped build a group identity that specifically excluded the oppressors?").

I mean, I assume you were covering similar things in your class, I'm absolutely not criticizing that at all, but within the comment, focusing only on the fear of potential harm as a way of dissuading someone talking about "peeves" reduces things to a really inhuman dynamic that flattens people out into either dangers or victims, and that is not really fair to either party. Better to argue about it, or talk about how exhausting it is to have yet another thing being policed, or whatever draws more humanity into the discussion, than to tell people to shut up.
posted by mittens at 6:28 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned this This American Life segment about the hate mail they get about their female reporters' vocal fry.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:30 PM on May 1, 2015 [7 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned this This American Life segment about the hate mail they get about their female reporters' vocal fry.

I went looking for that but couldn't find it! I also recall the women who currently host Stuff You Missed in History Class talking about the mouthbreathers who feel the need to email them about their terrible voices, just full of fry, on one of their podcasts.

For what it's worth, I noticed vocal fry way before people started throwing a fit about it. I like it, and the way it sounds, and the way it feels to produce that kind of sound. That said, the person I know who is most prone to that sound in his voice, which I noticed immediately upon meeting him a good few years before I'd ever heard of the moaning and whining about vocal fry or put a name to the sound.... is a forty-year-old man. Way, way more pronounced than anyone my age I've heard speaking.

I'm twenty-four. I use upspeak, and I deliberately encourage vocal fry when I feel like it because I like the way it sounds. And I gotta say, anyone who whines to me--or behind my back--about the tone of my voice instead of listening to what I am actually saying? They can go straight into the "ridiculously inappropriate criticism" bin, like the guy who tried to tell me everyone secretly hated me for expressing my anxiety about my preliminary exams in public or the guy who yelled at me for eating my lunch at my desk--where everyone in my office eats--because it was "too stinky" with no warning or people who make fun of the way I walk or run. Frankly, they can all go and fuck themselves.

This is my goddamn voice. It is how I naturally talk. Okay? I'm not going to go to the trouble of constant self-monitoring to change some new, special aspect of myself because people associate it with immature teenage girls. Especially when I goddamn was a teenage girl, and I was immature sometimes, sure, but that didn't make me automatically worthy of scorn.

Everyone moaning about vocal fry, who complain it's really just that irritating when people--especially young women--use it? Fine. You try to speak the way I naturally speak for a while. You try to speak with the tonalities I use and the emphases; you try to modify your accent to match my idiosyncratic phrasing and you pay very close attention to your pitch so you don't get told off for being too quiet or too loud. You get to self-monitor yourselves and devote a portion of your attention to your tone at all time before you speak, attention you can't pay to actually form a thought you want to produce.

Oh, wait, that's too hard, you're not consciously monitoring all the vocal tics you make? You're just speaking without thinking about it, and you pick up speech modalities from other people you interact with? Yeah. That's what it's like for women using upspeak or who have vocal fry in their voices. They're not self-monitoring, they're speaking with their natural voices. There is nothing inherently good or bad about speaking in a variety of ways, and there's nothing that inherently makes even-toned or non-creaky modes of speaking better or worse than creaky speaking.

And if this seems unfair, or something that's being levied at people who are going "well, I just hate it in everyone's voices, not just women's voices?" Please understand that the vast, vast majority of complaints about fry that I see, both in general (and on Metafilter!) are targeted at women's voices. The vast majority of commentary about "irritating voices" are aimed at women. In this goddamned thread we literally have a person saying that the same vocal tic is obnoxious in women but not in men because apparently higher voices are inherently more annoying. If you're surprised by the level of anger in the comments, then, understand the context that women are living in--women are the people who get entitled asshats coming up to them and offering concern-trolly commentary on things that really do not need to be up for public criticism. And it is FUCKING exhausting.
posted by sciatrix at 6:44 PM on May 1, 2015 [21 favorites]


As a buttress, or counterpart, to sciatrix's post, I'll say that as disconcerting as I've found uptalk, the authoritarian (and often stentorian) male voice heard in every single PSA aimed at my generational cohort remains one that I just turn right the fuck off, to the extent that I still hate to hear most male politicians speak, even when I know I should listen. And that male voice always gives me the serious giggles when I go with my partner to movies with those "In a world. . . " trailers. Shit may be dire but shit is never as dire as your inflection indicates, O authority man!
posted by goofyfoot at 7:11 PM on May 1, 2015 [10 favorites]


In your story, it positions the young woman as a victim of a heretofore unknown oppression

It positions the young student -- someone who has not yet embarked on a professional career -- as someone who can be negatively affected by linguistic discrimination. I am putting a face to the people whose voices are being complained about in this thread, and pointing out that the complaints have consequences.

based on reading articles that, one assumes from your use of the word "popular," are not scholarly, are not based on research, has come to believe this form of voice discrimination exists

Including an article from a hiring manager that says he doesn't hire women with vocal fry, which was full of comments from people praising the decision. In class, we also listened to a segment from "This American Life" about the amount of hate mail the women receive about their voices, and we read an op-ed from a young linguist who has trouble getting people to listen to what she's saying instead of complaining about how she talks.

Now, it's true that I didn't mention the academic reading she also had to do (as a requirement for the paper), but I don't think that's necessary to establish that vocal fry in young women is unjustly stigmatized, and that women have suffered negative consequences for it. We don't need proof that her job prospects will definitely suffer in order for that to be a legitimate worry for her.

As for the academic reading that she did, it's not the best quality because the research is fairly new, but we have so far shows the stigma is there, but it depends on age -- both of the speaker and listener -- and there is a trade-off when it comes to pitch. Statistically, it seems her best bet for avoiding a negative judgment would be to use a slightly higher pitch with no fry with older speakers, and to use her normal voice with younger speakers.

(She ended up arguing that students should be made aware of what vocal fry is in order to make their own choices about whether or not to try to change their voice.)

reduces things to a really inhuman dynamic that flattens people out into either dangers or victims

I don't agree with you at all about this. There are a lot of "peeves" that are rooted in prejudice, and complaints about them are an expression of prejudice. It shouldn't be socially acceptable to express a prejudice just because it's a "peeve" that you don't like this particular thing associated with X group. So yes, if you can't get over your negative feelings for vocal fry, the decent thing to do is to not complain about it.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2015 [12 favorites]


I understand that women are criticized for vocal tics (such as fry, upspeak, and Valley-speak) in a way that men are not

Not in the same way, no. For instance, girls growing up don't usually get the crap kicked out of them for fry, uptalk and valley-speak. Sissy boys do. A high voice can hold a woman back professionally. An "effeminate" voice can kill a man's career (and love life) too.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:36 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


the authoritarian (and often stentorian) male voice heard in every single PSA aimed at my generational cohort remains one that I just turn right the fuck of

OMG YES I thought I was the only one.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:04 PM on May 1, 2015


The whole attempt to link 'up talk' to some kind of modern psychological unease makes me giggle considering that 'sentences going up at the end' has been endemic among people from North Queensland since I was born there nearly forty years ago, and probably long before. As in I don't do it and was often asked 'where are you from' because I didn't sound like everyone around me. I now notice that it has become a lot more prevalent across Australian society, male and female, and have never really considered it a gendered thing.
posted by Megami at 12:05 AM on May 2, 2015


"The whole attempt to link 'up talk' to some kind of modern psychological unease makes me giggle considering that 'sentences going up at the end' has been endemic among people from North Queensland since I was born there nearly forty years ago, and probably long before."

I have no training in linguistics and my interest in it dates mostly to the last fifteen to twenty years. I recall when I first came to MetaFilter eleven years ago, I was slightly startled at how grouchy languagehat could get. I mean, he's kind of a grouch, but it's something I've noticed from linguists for a very long time -- come to think of it, I first noticed it (and learned some stuff) from the respected alt.folklore.urban elder, Cindy Kandolf, in the mid-90s. There were a few linguists on afu, and they all tended to be a bit grouchy. But there's a lot of dumb and false folklore about language, and a lot of dumb and harmful and false folklore about language, so it's not unexpected.

I mention all this because your example perfectly illustrates the pattern -- everyone is a native speaker, so everyone thinks they are necessarily an authority on language, and so there's this never-ending torrent of bullshit of rationalized, biased, wild-ass guesses about language that simultaneously manage to be empirically false in easily demonstrable ways if people actually check (which they don't), and invariably an expression of cultural prejudices and fears. This is why linguistic folklore was so common a topic on afu, because it closely follows the pattern of urban folklore, which tend to be wildly popular and usually false stories that express and validate cultural prejudices and fears. And they very often are toxic and perpetuate injustice.

Even after all this time, I still can be surprised and angered by the so very confident assertions that people make about language that are clearly just intuitive stuff that they think is "obvious" but which stigmatizes groups of people who are lower status -- and so often they're proud of it. People you otherwise wouldn't expect this sort of thing from.

One big reason for this is because in language there's a tight relationship between institutionalized inequality/oppression and the accumulation of cultural capital. Language is a key area in which people accumulate and demonstrate cultural capital, and the cultural capital (like any capital) motivates a defense of its presumed value -- defending it is sort of an implicit imperative. So relatively more educated people, especially, tend to rationalize as inherently virtuous the language usages they've accumulated that signal their higher status. Certain regional low-status dialectical variations are mocked without reservation, likewise teen speech, African American Vernacular English, usage associated with women, whatever -- and it's taken as given that people who exhibit these speech features should learn to avoid them. If they don't, they're mocked. They're mocked because, invariably, the argument is that the usages should be mocked because they're inherently inferior. They sound bad, they're illogical, they're incoherent and confusing. But the real reason is the powerful allure of the just world fallacy -- lower-status folk are lower-status and discriminated against because they deserve it, especially so given examples of higher-status folk who were formerly lower-status and worked hard to rid themselves of these lower-status signifiers. In other words, it's bad and you could change it if you wanted, so the fact that you haven't means you're bad, which is then used as a justification for why it's bad in the first place. In addition to whatever other rationalization is handy.

This is a pattern in many, many things, but it's so prevalent and strong in language peeving. And it's not trivial -- as discussed, people are denied jobs and their life trajectory is strongly influenced by people's ideas about language. It's not arbitrary, it's very much part of the "institutionalized" thing we're talking about when we talk about institutionalized injustice. It's testing and hiring and employment practices and such. It's never just a coincidence that some highly stigmatized speech feature also happens to correlate to a stigmatized group and used as a shibboleth for discriminating against them. But, over and over, people will argue that the highly stigmatized feature is necessarily inherently objectionable and therefore while it may be unfortunate that discriminating on that basis disproportionately impacts a disadvantaged group, it's still reasonable to do so. Well, naturally. That's how it always works, isn't it? But people work very hard to not actually see the pattern and what's really going on.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:15 AM on May 2, 2015 [22 favorites]


Has anyone mentioned this This American Life segment about the hate mail they get about their female reporters' vocal fry.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious


That's exactly what I was thinking of when I mentioned Ira Glass.

He has vocal fry all the time - and he spent that segment pointing out that no one has complained about him, only about their female reporters. It truly is a double standard.
posted by jb at 6:17 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


If i saw hundreds of people of all manner of genders displaying the same stereotyped behaviours, that would still be irritating, likely, because most displays of group cohesion generally irritate me.

Protip: If you find yourself annoyed by vocal fry or Justin Bieber or that one shade of blue or people using 'hopefully' to mean "I hope" or the Papyrus font or the fact that peer groups share common mannerisms, you're not just doomed to be unhappy every time you notice these things. You can develop a habit of reminding yourself that these things are harmless until you get over it, and be a little bit happier person.
posted by straight at 6:31 AM on May 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Oh boy. This subject. I have to disagree that vocal fry is pleasant when a man does it, and I am really annoyed that this is becoming just a shorthand phrase for "I find your female voice annoying." The Stuff You Missed In History Class ladies don't have it. Sexist assholes have just found a term they can latch onto.

But vocal fry does exist. The producer on TAL (who does have it) seemed really disingenuous about the whole thing with her defense of "this is just how my voice is." Yes, but you're on the radio. Speaking. For money. Voice training should be part of your job just like journalism education presumably was. Vocal fry is produced by not supporting your voice with enough air, and it's a strain on your vocal cords. Voice and breathing exercises can improve this. If you want a continued career on the radio, I would think you would want to preserve your instrument.
posted by queensissy at 10:57 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, but you're on the radio. Speaking. For money.

So, you want to say that because she's on the radio, it's reasonable to expect her not to use vocal fry, but you haven't addressed these (very important) issues raised in the post and in the thread:

(a) that segment is largely about the DOUBLE STANDARD, that women are stigmatized for use of vocal fry in a way that men are not

(b) the (recent!) stigmatization of vocal fry is socially constructed and includes large elements of misogyny, and it impacts women more than men

Sure, the women in TAL are professional radio presenters, and we can have different standards for radio than we do for everyday speech. That doesn't excuse having standards that are racist, sexist, etc -- not all standards are just.

If you want a continued career on the radio, I would think you would want to preserve your instrument.

As has been discussed in the thread, there is no credible evidence that normal use of vocal fry leads to damage -- and plenty of reason to think that this is ridiculous, given that it is an obligatory part of many languages' sound systems, meaning millions -- actually, billions -- of people around the world use it frequently and we have never found evidence of damage.

Please read the comments on the thread before spreading these harmful folk beliefs, because this is simply BS.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:21 AM on May 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


Everyone moaning about vocal fry, who complain it's really just that irritating when people--especially young women--use it? Fine. You try to speak the way I naturally speak for a while. You try to speak with the tonalities I use and the emphases; you try to modify your accent to match my idiosyncratic phrasing and you pay very close attention to your pitch so you don't get told off for being too quiet or too loud. You get to self-monitor yourselves and devote a portion of your attention to your tone at all time before you speak, attention you can't pay to actually form a thought you want to produce.

Everyday Joe or Joanne Schmo, meh. My own voice sounds like Lee Marvin breathing life into a dying bullfrog through a party horn, and usually makes about as much sense. And, like, I 'like' when I type, ffs. I do not have particularly high standards for the casual speech of laypeople.

But anyone who speaks into a microphone for a living? Hell yes it is reasonable to expect them to have a trained speaking voice, and hell yes people should be turned away from such positions if their speaking voice is godawful. The voice is the job; train for it. This is a reasonable expectation, I think.

The reason vocal tics make professional speakers seem lazy and unprofessional is because they are lazy and unprofessional. If someone in any profession can't be bothered to put in the effort necessary to become good at it, well, what else would you call that?

A musician isn't just someone who shows up with an instrument; they're expected to know how to play it.

(Also, it really needs to be said that no amount of radio vocal fry is anywhere near as annoying as whatever the hell is up with Stuart McLean's voice. The only way to get rid of that is with a rocket into the sun.)
posted by Sys Rq at 12:10 PM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


But anyone who speaks into a microphone for a living? Hell yes it is reasonable to expect them to have a trained speaking voice, and hell yes people should be turned away from such positions if their speaking voice is godawful. The voice is the job; train for it. This is a reasonable expectation, I think.
Ok, but the issue here is who gets to define what qualifies as a "trained speaking voice" that is not "godawful," and whose speech patterns those norms reflect. Vocal fry is not a bad way of speaking. It is a way of speaking that is associated with young women. Young people think vocal fry sounds good and that it conveys authority. Older people are generally the folks who are appalled by it, and they often express that outrage in very gendered terms. There's been a lot of discussion lately about the whiteness of "public radio voice," and in some ways this is part of the same discussion. How do you have to talk to be seen to sound authoritative? Who gets excluded, both as presenters and as audiences, by those norms?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:33 PM on May 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


I remember discovering vocal fry as a kid, on a 90 minute road trip with my dad. I sat behind him, trying to reduce this new sound to its essentials, and finally ended up with a long, slow "a-a-a-a-a-a..."
My dad didn't say a word.
"A-a-a-a-a-a-a..."
It sounded like a pot burbling. I varied speed and mouth shape. I wondered when my dad was going to say anything. In a fit of brashness I decided I would go on for as long as I had to, to make him say something.
"A-a-a-o-o-o-o- a - a - a - i-i-i-i-e-e - e - e -"
When he finally snapped, it was glorious. The back of his neck went dark red. His hands clenched round the steering wheel. He glared at the road infront of him.
"A-a-a..."
"I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING BUT STOP IT RIGHT NOW."
"Okay," I squeaked.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:29 PM on May 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


"But anyone who speaks into a microphone for a living? Hell yes it is reasonable to expect them to have a trained speaking voice, and hell yes people should be turned away from such positions if their speaking voice is godawful. The voice is the job; train for it. This is a reasonable expectation, I think."

As a former radio disc jockey, I'm rolling my eyes at you. This whole notion of "trained speaking voice" is just stupid. It's not how the industry works, you don't go to radio announcer school and take classes in using your "vocal instrument". There are no "standards".

What there is, is whatever audiences want. That, in turn, is partly manifested by hiring decisions and informal propagation and perpetuation of certain practices. I was a commercial radio disc jockey and when I was first hired, I was resistant to using "radio voice" -- exaggerated inflection and variation of loudness. But I quickly acclimated because that's what the audience expected, what the professional culture of commercial radio expected, and it also made sense as the liveliness and cadence of a radio DJ is part of the entertainment.

But it's not how classical music DJs sound, it's not how jazz DJs sound, and it's generally not how public radio DJs sound. Does that make one kind bad and the other good? Of course not, it's because there are just audience and subcultural standards, and sometimes those standards make sense. Other times they're arbitrary.

Vocal fry doesn't make someone unintelligible. Despite contrary claims in this thread, it in no way makes it difficult to comprehend the speech of these radio announcers. The argument is that it sounds "bad" and therefore it's unprofessional. But Ira Glass is wildly popular. Fry is increasingly more common in American speech and it's increasingly common in media. Some people don't like it, but most of those who don't like it seem to only dislike it when women do it. Lots of other people like it or don't care. It's clearly within the boundaries of professional standards, such as they informally are. You, who are just a single audience member who doesn't like it, have no standing whatsoever in declaring that somehow fry violates professional standards of radio announcing. Seriously, it's comical.

It's comical and almost a parody of the ways people absurdly overreach to rationalize and justify their own biases.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:45 PM on May 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


Some people don't like it, but most of those who don't like it seem to only dislike it when women do it.

I'm not sure that pointing out the sexism will have an impact on how Sys Rq thinks about this issue. Note that he's the one who, in an earlier comment, tried to justify the double standard by saying:
When (most) men do it, it's like a cat purring. When (most) women do it, it's like someone scraping their fingertip against an inflated balloon. As much as it would be great to just say "sexism!" and leave it at that, men and women have differences in their voices.
In other words, he thinks that the double standard reflects an some kind of objective difference in how men and women sound; women with vocal fry are just more annoying than men, so the double-standard is okay. Which is one of the most disappointing and angering comments in this entire thread, in many ways.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:32 PM on May 2, 2015 [12 favorites]


I find all sorts of vocal tics irritating regardless of the speaker's gender.

Vocal tics... really? You know people have speech impediments that are simply beyond their control, be it subconsciously or physically. I'm sure you know this. This is like saying you find people with Down syndrome to be ugly to look at regardless of their gender.

Or you just meant stuff that people developed based upon where they were born, who their parents or role models were (or weren't), and the time they were born into?

Accents, drawls, fry, upspeak, Valley-speak, etc. — all of it drives me nuts.

For example, I would rather do 10,000 other things than listen to a southern US accent for any length of time.


Well bless your heart.

Seriously, I get that you don't like accents. I used to be the same way. Then I got out and about and grew up. Now one of my best friends is from Michigan. Michigan! Move on, you'll be happier.

In the meantime our sultry and drawling voices and colorful vernacular will live just fine without ya. We won't miss you in Mayberry nor will I send them Duke boys to getcha. I'll tell Sookie Stackhouse not to bother saving you a plate. B.B. King will sing you no songs, Wendell Berry will pen you no poems, and Harper Lee craft you no books. Y'all come back now, ya' hear?
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:56 PM on May 2, 2015 [10 favorites]


Okay RoE, but surely you're not including south Chicago in all that are you?

/s
posted by small_ruminant at 5:57 PM on May 2, 2015


Nah, y'all exempt. Because Muddy Waters.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:02 PM on May 2, 2015


trying to reduce this new sound to its essentials, and finally ended up with a long, slow "a-a-a-a-a-a..."

I can do this pretty much at will, and over the years I've enjoyed making this sound come out of various sound systems at musicians and other event crew people who don't realize that I have access to a live microphone - they are utterly flummoxed because they have never ever in their lives heard a speaker make that noise before . . . . . .

It's also really fun to make the sound through a system large and powerful enough for an audience of 5000 or more; then your vocal fry noise has some authority.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:34 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Vocal fry is produced by not supporting your voice with enough air, and it's a strain on your vocal cords

Vocal fry isn't bad for your voice; it's actually very good for it. My SO is a trained singer - his voice coach taught him to use vocal fry on purpose to help his voice and throat. It helps your vocal track be in the right place.
posted by jb at 7:33 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want a continued career on the radio, I would think you would want to preserve your instrument.

Third tone in mandarin is systematically damaging millions of people's voices? You'd think they'd know that by now.
posted by ctmf at 7:34 PM on May 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Vocal fry isn't damaging to your voice, and it isn't caused by "not supporting your voice with enough air." I can have lungs full of air and have my vocal support mechanism fully and firmly engaged, and fry away. It's literally just a noise that the human voice can make.
posted by KathrynT at 7:43 PM on May 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


In other words, he thinks that the double standard reflects an some kind of objective difference in how men and women sound; women with vocal fry are just more annoying than men, so the double-standard is okay. Which is one of the most disappointing and angering comments in this entire thread, in many ways.

Those are not "other words," they are "some shit you made up."

Where did I say "so the double standard is okay"? The very next sentence after the one you quote begins, "Male vocal fry is still a problem." In actual other words, men should be held to the same standard.

The double standard is bad. This is obvious. That there may be a reason for the double standard does not make it okay.

As a former radio disc jockey, I'm rolling my eyes at you. This whole notion of "trained speaking voice" is just stupid. It's not how the industry works, you don't go to radio announcer school and take classes in using your "vocal instrument".

Yes. I invented the idea of elocution out of thin air.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 AM on May 3, 2015


That there may be a reason for the double standard does not make it okay.

I take back that you claim that the double standard is okay.

But you still attempted to explain a sexist double standard with more sexism, which is, sadly, something that happens all of the time in discussions of sexism. Women are being shat on? "Well, we should stop shitting on them because it's not fair, but it's probably because they are objectively more annoying" is a fucking terrible response.

Also, it's amazing how un self-aware the statement is. In a discussion full of information - notably, explaining how peeves about language variation are almost never divorced from attitudes about social groups, how billions of people around the world use vocal fry regularly without comment because it's part of their language, how women's speech has been repeatedly stigmatized and how these biases are rationalized by people who don't want to admit to sexism - you think that you're magically exempt from all this. That your claim that men who use vocal fry are like cats purring, and women like nails on a chalkboard, is just based on objective differences about male and female voices.

Seriously, Sys Rq, it was a terrible comment. "We should hold men to the same standard even so" makes it marginally better, but not by much.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:19 AM on May 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who among us hasn't done this:
"I remember discovering vocal fry as a kid, on a 90 minute road trip with my dad. I sat behind him, trying to reduce this new sound to its essentials, and finally ended up with a long, slow 'a-a-a-a-a-a...'"

I did that too! I'm doing it right now!!! A-a-a--aa-a-a-a-a!!! I assumed everybody figured this out at some point in childhood, like learning to cross your eyes. It's just that not everybody had the luck to hit on it in such a fortuitous time and place.

Learning how to operate the body, learning how to operate the parent:

"'A-a-a-o-o-o-o- a - a - a - i-i-i-i-e-e - e - e -'
When he finally snapped, it was glorious. The back of his neck went dark red. His hands clenched round the steering wheel. He glared at the road infront of him.
'A-a-a...'
'I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING BUT STOP IT RIGHT NOW.'
'Okay,' I squeaked."

A classic and beautiful coming of age story. Sorry all y'all are so amped up with rage about the human condition.

Every NPR person in the US and Canada aping Ira Glass is absolutely not doing it because she or he is "lazy and unprofessional." That's an insane claim. Ira Glass developed that "casual mid-thirties hip friendly guy" formula by obsessively recording and re-recording every utterance and forcing everybody in his employ to do it, too. I don't notice it in the women at all. The only women on NPR I can't deal with are Deborah Amos (whose voice quality is fine and she's fine when she's talking off the cuff but who when she reads inflects everything like the Hindenberg is going down right behind her) and somebody on that Glenn Washington show who doesn't fry, she just has a quacky quality that makes my head boil on the inside. It's the men who make me insane. Scott Simon. Steve Inskeep. Ira et al. I could go ooooon and ooooooooo-o-o-o-on. It's causing permanent damage to my vocal chords because I yell at the radio.

A-a-a-a-a-all ri-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ight, a-a-a--a-a-a--aa---all. Got to go hiking, no-o-o-o-o-ow.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:20 AM on May 3, 2015


To me vocal fry is a speech pattern, like any regional accent or inflection: a texan drawl or Bawstan accent.

Such speech patterns are fine for in-group communications because everyone is used to it and they don't really notice it. But for across-group communication, its very distracting.

Uptalk or vocal fry (or any unusual vocal tic) takes the listeners' focus away from the content of speech, makes them notice this vocal tic and wonder about it.

Use vocal fry as much as you like for in group communication or where error free communication is not a priority but for situations where its important to communicate efficiently without distractions, vocal fry is really inappropriate.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:50 AM on May 4, 2015


The problem with saying that you shouldn't use regional accents or inflections to communicate across groups is that there is no such thing as unaccented language or neutral inflection. It's purely a matter of which group you're choosing to elevate as the standard to which other groups must adhere.
posted by Andrhia at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Uptalk or vocal fry (or any unusual vocal tic) takes the listeners' focus away from the content of speech, makes them notice this vocal tic and wonder about it.

I don't fry--I don't think I have the throat for it, but lord how I do uptalk. And not just uptalk. My voice is an amalgam I don't even know how to describe, redneck femme gay nerd-buzz with a side order of hayfever, steamrollered by decades of trying to talk like the people on TV talked when I was growing up, dropped down an octave by the ravages of tracheal age.

It is quite a mix. And if, while listening to me, someone's focus drifts from the content of my speech, if, heaven forfend, someone should wonder about it, then I have to assume my listener is an idiot. Because, honest to god, who gets distracted (I also talk in italics a lot, btw) so much by someone's voice that they completely miss the point of what is being said? ("Oh no, I'm burning alive because I got distracted when that girl said FIRRRRE! in a way I'm not used to!")

And where, for god's sake, is the "in-group" I'm supposed to be talking like this with? My voice is my own. I'm an in-group of one. Am I to speak to no one but myself?

Psh.
posted by mittens at 4:09 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


more interesting is the vowel shift. I wonder what The American Language in 3000 AD will sound like?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:41 PM on May 8, 2015


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