Endangered Sound

Lest you misunderstand me to be a misogynist, allow me to state at the beginning that this article is prompted by esthetics not anger.

Dear Ladies:

On September 22, 2014, I posted an article titled, Ladies…please…! In it, I grumbled about the widespread vocal affectation that has swept across America’s women with the intensity of an out-of-control viral epidemic. “Vocal Fry,” is the ill-conceived notion that women need to distort whatever natural voice they’re born with to the sound of a pneumatic drill blasting through granite in order to acquire an authoritative sound. That sound is an assault on the human ear.

Two years later, the drill relentlessly goes on. The number of its practitioners is now well over two-thirds of female celebrities, particularly newscasters, political pundits, politicians, and weatherwomen. [Note: In stark contrast to the overwhelming number of vocal fry speakers, Janice Huff (NBC, Channel 4, 11 o’clock News) is a meteorologist whose natural voice is so beautiful that I often switch to that channel not necessarily to watch a weather report, but just to hear her speak! Her voice is like honey to the tongue and music to the ear. I’ve been in love with her rich, mellow sound for decades. In stark contrast to vocal fry practitioners, she provides therapeutic relief for those of us who are badgered by vocal fry. In addition to her professional clarity, Ms. Huff consistently enhances her day-after-day performances with a freshness of style unique in the weather forecasting field.]

Vocal Fry is forever imbedded in many films. The period of some films can be identified by the incidence of vocal fry actors. I literally cannot listen to their sound. I’m often compelled to change television channels to avoid exposure to the intensely irritating sound of vocal fry. I often find myself switching away from a film because the fry sizzles in more than one actress. If the leading lady is a vocal fryer, I’m unable to endure the granite drill no matter how fine the film  may be otherwise.

Very often, there are as many vocal fry speakers as there are women on a TV talk show! Close your eyes while they are speaking and you will find that you can’t tell which of the women is speaking. They all sound alike. The sound is similar to that of someone afflicted with a severe respiratory problem like laryngitis (inflamed voice box). Although laryngitis is a natural biological anomaly, the raspy, gravelly sound of vocal fry is an affectation deliberately created by squeezing the larynx thereby allowing air to haphazardly flap vocal chords. Social motivations for this affectation are discussed in the article cited above.

Very much less practiced by professional males, vocal fry is an affectation overwhelmingly practiced by women. When a man creates that sound it is not quite as affected as that of a woman because his vocal range is usually naturally lower than that of a woman and the contrast between his natural voice and his occasionally fried words is not quite as jarring as that of a woman. For example, when the newscaster and commentator, Shepard Smith, speaks the word “world” he invariably fries the letters “orld.” On the other hand, when women fry their words the sound is blatantly ugly. For example, Kim Kardashian’s  fluent vocal fry is incomparably ugly. I don’t know why she’s famous, except that role models are not necessarily special. Someday, and only by chance, I may see what it is that she does to make her famous, but judging by her vocal affectation, there’s no point in checking her resumé.

What concerns me most, ladies, is that unlike virtually all ill-conceived cultural fads, this one threatens to affect children. They are the best of mimics, especially when learning a language. To exacerbate matters, this cultural phenomenon is easy to emulate. It is now in its second generation. Time is running out. Please restore your naturally varied voices as soon as possible. Don’t allow this cultural nightmare to affect our language permanently. Don’t allow “feminism” to diminish your femininity.

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