Toiling in the Land of Vocal Fry

Vocal fry: the lowest vocal register…produced through a loose glottal closure which will permit air to bubble through slowly with a popping or rattling sound of a very low frequency. (from Wikipedia)

Also: a low, scratchy sound that occupies the vocal range below modal voice (the most commonly used vocal register in speech and singing). Also known as vocal fry register, creaky voice, pulse register, laryngealization, and glottal fry. (from Richard Nordquist)

If you’re still having trouble with this, just imagine how the Kardashians speak. Flat, atonal, a blasé tone that suggests total disinterest but tilts up at the end of each sentence as if even the most declarative statement (“I just took a huge shit”) sounds like a question (“I just took a huge shit?”).

Brief digression:

Working at what is partially a fashion company, about half of my floor is populated by merchandisers, buyers, and other people who studied fashion as, like, an actual college thing. And they got jobs for it, which is understandably enough to drive my English major friends batty.

My floor is devoted to women’s and kids’ apparel, and these departments are typically dominated by women. While I’ve worked with plenty of women before, I’ve never worked with these kinds of women. Or should I say “this kind of woman,” because as far as I can tell, there’s only one kind.

(Actually there’s two kinds, but you should know that the second kind is exceedingly rare, and that every time I happen to spot a bigger girl or one with unkempt hair, I want to rush over and high-five her in solidarity. “YOU AND ME, GIRL, YOU AND ME!”)

First of all, you should know that some of this is coming from a place of jealousy. The first half of the paragraph, anyway. You see, while I would rather be able to discuss Nabokov than Prada, I do feel a twinge of envy when I walk to the bathroom every day past desk after desk of some of the most attractive females I have ever seen in my life. Easily 85% of them could pass for supermodels. Mostly tall and willowy or Asian and petite, these women have terrific skin, somehow know what to do with makeup besides just slap it on in an effort to look less exhausted, and possess the kind of hair that is either flowing and well-conditioned, sloppy but purposefully and artfully so, or chopped to a perfectly flattering pixie cut that sits daintily atop the tiniest elfin features. They dress impeccably, even the one who wears sweatpants and the other who shows up in running clothes every day. I’m convinced that most of them own entire accessory closets. They swill Diet Coke like it won’t eventually cause hideous tumors, and they only drink coffee through straws. Sentences about what they think or prefer begin with “Um, I feel liiiiiike…” and the newest group of hires in their department are named – and I am not making this up, I re-checked the company Web site today – Kylie, Kayleigh, Hayley, Mackenzie, and Brenna. These are adult women, by the way. They’re obviously too sleepy to sit up straight, so they hunch over like they’re warming their delicate bones over a mug of steaming herbal tea. They shake hands like sparrow-clawed little babies. They all have fuzzy blankets to wrap themselves in when it’s August outside. And they all speak with vocal fry.

I. Can’t. Stand. Vocal Fry.

Perhaps this is because, as a native Midwesterner, I prefer a more direct way of communicating. I prefer people to be plainspoken. I don’t even mind abrasive speakers; I get along terrifically with people from the Northeast because at least they tell you where you stand with them (tip: if you have not been shouted at in friendly conversation by someone from Boston then you are missing out on one of the great joys of life). I just need people to be declarative when they speak, because when they’re not, when everything someone says sounds as though they are bored, condescending, or unsure, my brain goes into overdrive trying to figure out if they’re fucking with me or actually just that stupid.

Usually, they’re actually just that stupid. Because a smart person knows how to speak, okay? A smart person knows how to communicate intent and emotion. A smart person understands when they say something incomplete or confusing. A smart person doesn’t stare blankly back at you when you stand there, waiting for them to finish asking the question they clearly started when THAT AND EVERYTHING ELSE THEY SAID WAS PHRASED LIKE A QUESTION.

Why the explosive use of vocal fry? Is it because I’m on the West Coast now? Is it actually because of the Kardashians? Are the fashion girls in my company not above emulating those fucking people? Is everyone’s speech getting shitty and lazy as we over-rely on non-verbal communication such as texting, or have so many people adopted this practiced disaffection that it’s strangulating their speech? Does anyone notice that I am asking real questions with real question marks?

About erineph

I'm Erin. I have tattoos and more than one cat. I am an office drone, a music writer, and an erstwhile bartender. I am a cook in the bedroom and a whore in the kitchen. Things I enjoy include but are not limited to zombies, burritos, Cthulhu, Kurt Vonnegut, Keith Richards, accordions, perfumery, and wearing fat pants in the privacy of my own home.
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1 Response to Toiling in the Land of Vocal Fry

  1. As someone who has spent many hours sitting in the Honda of Frontenac waiting room listening to rich girls whine on their cellies, vocal fry is alive and well in St. Louis, too.

    The most recent girl was upset because Hailey didn’t want to go to Napa for the girl’s “graduation trip.” “She’ll have the baby by then! What’s her deal? Uuuugh.” And Hailey’s husband wanted to go to “the islands” after the baby.

    I will pray for you? And Hailey? Sincerely?

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