I’ve written before about how our language is evolving. Vocabulary, definitions, idiomatic expressions, and imported words from other languages and technology are changing English on a scale to rival the Norman invasion of 1066, when French became the official language of the English court.
I love idiomatic expressions, mainly because they show the versatility, creativity, and downright illogic of English. Honestly, I also love them because of their ability to stump foreigners. For instance, I watch them struggle with differences in phrases with a verb like “put” such as put on, put off, put up, put down, put out, put in, put through, put back, put over, put under, etc. Phrasal verbs. You get the idea.
Then there’s the classic line that appeared in a resume for a job I was hiring for. The applicant was not a native speaker of English and unfortunately did not have anyone look over his material. He wanted to impress upon us that he had worked in a startup and had done whatever was asked of him to get the job done, no matter how menial. What he meant to say was that he had performed manual labor whenever required. What he actually said was that he “gave hand jobs” as needed.
I don’t judge. I might have done something similar if I had to apply for a job in Farsi. His only real mistake, of course, was trusting Google Translate. And, no, I don’t expect ChatGPT to be any better.
But now not only is our language changing, but we may be changing as a result of a trend known as vocal fry, which I call “croak throat” (see Hey, Yay, Way). I mean literally, physiologically changing. I say that, because lately I have run into vocal fry everywhere, not just among young women. Men are starting to sound like creaking frogs on the bayou, too.
I have great respect for journalist Matt Taibbi and the work he is doing, but I’m not sure I can watch his interviews on YouTube and Rumble anymore. His voice suffers from serious vocal fry. I concede that this could be due to a physical condition. If so, I will do my mea culpas. If not, it underscores how this phenomenon is spreading like a flash mob video on social media.
This week I attended a keynote given by a woman in her mid-fifties. Her voice not only suffered from vocal fry but was one of the worst cases I have ever heard. And I have heard a lot of fried voices, having taught at university for twenty years. Ask me if this problem was around when I started. It wasn’t. That’s why I think it is a fashion trend, as arbitrary as a foulard or pocket square and just as unnecessary. Unlike those accessories, however, this trend could have serious consequences.
I am concerned that people are hurting themselves and that, over time, croaking will damage their vocal cords. Part of the cause of vocal fry is insufficient oxygen in the airway and lungs, but I suspect that something else is going on. Vocal fry could be the result of stress and lack of confidence. I have observed people collapse into vocal fry in stressful situations. It’s as if they are falling through the floor right before your eyes. The woman giving the keynote could have felt stressed, although she turned out to be a remarkable speaker.
Admittedly, I have a couple of dogs in the fight. First, I don’t live alone on a desolate island with a lighthouse (although I have fantasized about that). I deal with people all the time, but it is often painful to listen to them when they croak. I am hardly able to concentrate on what they tell me, which doesn’t make for good business. Second, I have grandchildren. A lot of them. What kind of croaking world will they enter once they get past grammar school? Maybe by then teachers will be croaking. And parents.
Does this mean our linguistic future is dependent upon the rest of us, the remnant, a small band of full-throated speakers? I’m up for it. What do you say? Clear your throat, stand tall, and speak clearly. But for God’s sake speak. No croaking allowed.
Image credits: feature by Alfred Schrock; water lily by Gleb Lucky; pond by Maxime Gilbert; leaves by Dušan veverkolog. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Will Shakespeare, RIP (April 23, 1616).