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Around the Bend: Speaking and creaking fries nerves

There’s a new, irritating speech fad going around. And I just found out I’m a habitual offender.
I’m talking about a real thing: “vocal fry,” also known as “creaky voice” and “glottal scrape” (oh, those kooky linguists). This particular affectation is more subtle but less jaunty than, say, talking like a pirate. It’s a legitimate speech pattern that you probably would never have noticed or been bothered by if I weren’t bringing it to your attention. Sorry.
My coworkers have long been annoyed with my speech — more in terms of its abundance and pointlessness than its sound — but now that I’ve pointed out my vocal fry habit, they recoil every time I open my mouth.
When I first learned about vocal fry last year, I couldn’t hear it. I saw a video in which a newscaster was criticized for trailing off her sentences with an exaggerated lowering of her voice and a crackly, staccato sound, like oil sizzling in a frying pan. I played the clip over and over and it sounded perfectly normal to me.
How could I have been so blind — or deaf?
I dismissed vocal fry as a myth, made up by news organizations sick of covering elections, wars and “Downton Abbey.” But I keep reading that vocal fry — more than gun violence or crippling national debt — is proof that our society is crumbling. Slowly, an awareness of vocal fry has crept into my consciousness in the same way that, without knowing how, I can tell you the names of the last three boys Taylor Swift has dated. And now, without my knowledge or consent, I’ve begun to “fry.”
On a recent afternoon, I was stuck in the state of suspended animation that is Court Street traffic at 3:15 p.m. As the same light turned red for the third time before I could get through it, I said, “You are not serioussss” (with one key emphasis word omitted). Oh, no. The “serious” had trailed off into a noise like someone dragging a metal rake across a gravel driveway. Vocal fry.
Some linguists suggest that overuse of vocal fry can be physically harmful. I agree. When I croak something like, “Ugh, the printer’s out of paper — againnnn,” my officemates chuck staplers at my head.
There are a couple of reasons I may have started talking this way. Studies have shown, for instance, that people talk like those around them to try to fit in. My stepson, for instance, adopted a drawl within four hours of moving to Oklahoma and now says things like “y’all” without a trace of irony.
But vocal fry in Addison County? It occurs commonly among hip urbanites, but those are in short supply around here. Anyway, I’ve already done my best to talk Vermontish by replacing the T’s at the end of my words with a grunting sound and pronouncing “milk” as “melk.” And given that most people either despise vocal fry or don’t notice it at all, what’s the point of using it? So far the only social advantage I’ve found is that people keep offering me lozenges.
Perhaps more telling, vocal fry is common among teenage girls. There is a teenage girl in my house. And since we no longer bond by cuddling and reading picture books together, I suppose I could be subconsciously mirroring her speech patterns in an effort to connect with her. I doubt it, but whatevs.
Or it could just be something I picked up from watching too many Kim Kardashian interviews. (That would also explain why I’ve started wearing huge false eyelashes and leaving the house in see-through clothing.) But I can’t blame everything on pop culture. After all, I have managed to make it through this year without once saying, “Haters gonna hate” or “YOLO” (look it up).
At least now that I’m aware of vocal fry, I can consciously avoid using it. So far, however, the solution isn’t much better than the problem. Rather than dragging my voice down to a growl at the end of every sentence, I’m trying to end on an upswing, kind of like I did in middle school when the whole Valley Girl thing was going on.
Unfortunately, it sounds pretty affected? So far, though, my coworkers haven’t thrown any more staplers at me?
Oh, but they will.

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