Saturday, January 14, 2012

Parsing The Yuppie Honk

You know that vocal tone young urban women started adopting fifteen or twenty years ago? I call it the Yuppie Honk. It's a deep gritty rasp, and at a certain point, women just started doing it.

Well, not all women. The Honk is constrained to a certain personality type: the energetic high-achieving go-getter who's loads of fun. But it's awfully popular, particularly in the sorts of places where energetic high-achieving go-getters go to have loads of fun. Walk through any trendy cafe in Manhattan, and you'll hear this same voice emanating from table after table. And, like any highly contagious trope, those who adopt it appear to feel that it gives them individuality (it's one of those shifts of perspective I like to write about). The Yuppie Honker is a maverick. All zillion of them.

It's clearly affectation. No one is born a Honker. This didn't exist before around 1990, and, to the best of my knowledge, human larynx structure has remained fixed for several millennia. And if it were a natural occurrence, what a coincidence it would be that it appears only in women who want to project the image of being energetic high-achieving go-getters who are loads of fun!

How did the Yuppie Honk start? My guess is that some pop culture figure happened to speak this way, and stylistic early-adopters picked it up and disseminated. At a certain point, such a thing takes on a life of its own: if you're going to be identified as a certain sort of person, you need to dress a certain way, pepper your speech with certain catch phrases, and, these days, speak in a raspy honk. And since honkers are over-achievers, aspirants and climbers of every stripe had better learn to honk if they're to bust through to success!

But while I can only speculate about the social origins of the Yuppie Honk, scientists actually have a physical explanation for how these women are doing it. There's even a name for the condition - and it's better than you could ever hope. Ready? It's called "Vocal Fry".

1 comment:

KenB said...

For several years, my wife and I have noticed this affectation. We've been calling it "Estrogen croak"

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