Male Vocal Fry Is Real Now, But Only Because Women Are Linguistic Innovators

Ann Heppermann made this little and delicious compilation of male vocal fry. Vocal fry, the hot topic of last year, is the intrusion of incredibly low pitches into the voice, produced by air popping or rushing through tightened vocal folds. It’s used in singing a lot, but mostly when people talk about it, it’s to say that women talk stupid! Stupid, stupid women, like former New York Times honcho Jill Abramson.

Do you want to know more about vocal fold closure??? OMG here.


The thing you realize when you watch videos that are pointed out as exhibits of women fryin’ is that it’s all the other mannerisms that are far more notable than vocal fry. In particular: backtracking, filler words, up-talking, false starts, limited vocabulary, and run-on sentences. The Atlantic pointed to this video of mean girl Zooey Deschanel as an example of vocal fry, but that’s the least notable speech trend exhibited. (Hey, I’m not judging too much, I literally have an original, period piece Valley Girl accent, and I really do talk like what respectable old white man would term “an idiot.” In fact on camera I may behave exactly like Zooey.)

Thing is, men talk like this CONSTANTLY now. It gets pinned on women because they do everything first, like the strange and curious recent invention of a subset of an accent specific to young women, particularly in New York City:

More than the pearls or the diamond-stud earrings, what really identified this New Yorker was her voice: those long, whiney vowels; that touch of an early-morning grumble; that lazy, whistling “s” and glottal stop that hushes the “t,” even in such cherished words as “bachelorette.” (Try it her way: Pronounce the imaginary word “bachelorecque”; then subtract only — careful, only! — the “k” sound, leaving your mouth open on the “e.”)

But never forget:

It is not surprising that women are spearheading the change in dialect. Many linguists said that women tend to be innovators of language. One widely held theory is that women are most sensitive to social capital and are the gatekeepers of the language, scolding children when they pronounce words incorrectly. The time may not be far off when mothers will be reprimanding their children for not inserting a “like” before an adjective.

In a fun bit of circularity, Leon Neyfakh crops up on that male vocal fry compilation; Leon worked with Jason Horowitz at the Observer around the time Horowitz wrote the story quoted here about women and linguistics.

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