The linguistic phenomenon of “creaky voice” has been well documented and, one would have thought, sufficiently argued about. If you’ve spent any time on a college campus in the past decade, or have even found yourself in the presence of young women in that time, you’re probably very familiar with what is called “vocal fry”. It’s that speech pattern, most evident in young women, that involves letting the ends of phrases ride low in the vocal register. “Creaky voice” is quickly becoming ubiquitous in upwardly mobile young women, and despised by older men. What a surprise.
Queen of the Creak
Last week, NPR host Bob Garfield had himself a right little tizzy over vocal fry, lamenting about the lows to which our linguistic integrity has sunk. Garfield had a whole slew of ideas about creaky voice—that it’s "vulgar", "repulsive", and "annoying", among other things—and aired his disdain against the young women who use this vocal pattern. And if this outrage sounds familiar in tone, that’s because it’s the same attack that has been directed at things like the “Valley Girl lift”, the word “like”, and countless other female speech patterns.
It makes sense that older men like Garfield would be threatened by the “creaky voice”. After all, the most prominent users of this vocal pattern are young women (Zooey Deschanel being the queen, in my estimation). The fact that this way of speaking is becoming not only ubiquitous, but also hip among young, career-minded women, means that women are setting the tone in public discourse more than ever. Every generation of women has had its own signature vocal pattern—think of Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, and Diane Keaton—and the sooner that the old guard can get down with it, the better.