The other day I got into a conversation with my office mate about vocal fry. Except I didn’t know at the time that it was called vocal fry. I’ve been referring to it as “that way teenage girls talk now” for the last few years. I was ranting about a group of young girls that were chatting in my gym’s locker room the day before. I found their voices so grating that I actually moved to a different locker as far away as I could get. It was a real “I’m too old for this shit” moment. A few days later I happened to be listening to a This American Life podcast where vocal fry was mentioned, and I finally had a name to put to a voice, so to speak.
A good friend of mine had a roommate a few years back who was the worst offender of vocal fry I’ve ever met. I was having a conversation with her once where she ended a story with the phrase “I was devastated.” With her vocal fry in full effect, these three words stretched out for way longer than necessary. It sounded like: “I was devastaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated.” Without hesitation I mimicked her vocal fry and responded “yeah, you sound devastaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaated.” My stomach lurched when I realized what I’d just done. You see, my fiends and I used to imitate this girl’s voice in private, but I had accidentally let my impersonation slip. Oops! Luckily it wasn’t my spot-on impression of her (presumed) sex voice, but still! Yeah, we did that.
Vocal fry isn’t new. When I was in high school it was referred to as ‘valley girl’ talk. It’s not the same as up-talking, nor is it the same problem as the chronic overuse of the word ‘like.’ I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t lapsed into vocal fry a few times. There’s something so easy about it. Like the vocal equivalent of a sedative washed down with a glass of merlot. And it’s what everyone sounds like now. I hear it on the subway, at the grocery store and on TV. The Kardashian family, in particular, are known for their vocal fry; in fact, they are frequently cited as not only the biggest abusers of vocal fry, but the source of its increased popularity.
Vocal fry is so prevalent, I suspect that in ten years from now it will be the norm. Can you imagine going to a doctor who speaks with vocal fry? Delivering your baby with the assistance of a vocally fried nurse who tells you “push haaaaaaaaaaaarder.” I can’t even.