American women like to fry. Wait, let me clarify … American women of a certain age and socioeconomic demographic like to employ vocal fry in sentences, and tack fry onto the tail ends of words for a glottal emphasis. While older generations tend to recoil from these deep, raspy sounds, young women often see “the fry” as a sign of strength and success.
The vocal fry register is as low as the human voice can go. Men can do it, and so can women. Singers in search of some serious bass, or a specific rock or country sound, can put the “croak” of vocal fry to good work. A large number of upwardly mobile American females also use vocal fry, but in their everyday speech.
Cultural commentators have been ripping into vocal fry — and the women who weave it into their vocal patterns — for quite some time now. Howard Stern has railed against it, and so have Bob Garfield and Mike Vuolo from Slate’s Lexicon Valley (check out the podcast about the history of the word “dude”). Even the NY Times got into the action a while back, although the paper cast vocal fry in a more favorable light, pointing out that young women tend to herald in changes in vocal patterns before the rest of us catch on.
Personally, whenever I think of a deep, gurgly fry, I can’t help but picture Britney Spears in her rebellious phase, shaving and flashing various body parts, repeating the word “whatever” over and over again with a guttural backwash. Despite the cultural associations in my head, I’m not here to act as a linguistic curmudgeon. Many young women respect the fry, and so shall I.
If Zooey Deschanel, Emily VanCamp (a Canadian actress who fries) and an army of Kardashians, not to mention the women who will be running the hospital where I’ll spend my final days (monitoring the life-support systems and keeping me alive), have all embraced vocal fry, why shouldn’t I? Let’s put our animosity toward creaky glottal scraping aside and learn to love — or at least accept — the fry.
And while I’m at it, I’d like to change my stance on the word “amazing” as well. The word “amazing” and the phrase “this is amazing” pops up an awful lot in news feeds these days. Editors love “amazing” because “amazing” really is amazing, and if something is truly amazing, we’ll click on it. The irony is that whenever I see “amazing” in print now, I tend to give it a hefty dose of vocal fry in my brain, and turn it into the collocation “like amazing.”
Although it’s taken some time, I no longer find vocal fry as grating as I did in the past. Maybe it’s habituation, or perhaps a tacit acceptance of the inevitable tide of fry that will continue to wash over me. Irrespective of the reasons, I now accept, and even enjoy, a certain amount of vocal fry (let’s not overdo it though) now and again, which is, like, pretty “amazing” when you think about it.