A woman on the radio was talking about fuh-urrs. As in animal pelts.
I couldn't hear much from my chair, and the direction of her remarks wasn't clear -- was she for fuh-urrs or against them? -- but she certainly liked saying "fuh-urrrs." She sounded like a Doberman standing on his front porch, watching the mail carrier approach: "Fuh-urrrrsss. Fuh-urrrsss."
Her speech reminded me of a "Jeopardy!" contestant who was on the show a year or so ago. She had the same speech affectation, only worse.
"'Potent Potables' for 200 doll-urrrrrrrrz," she'd say, and my husband and I would growl like the aforementioned Doberman. After "What is a screwdri-vur-ur-ur?" and "Benjamin Frank-lin-in-in-in," we were shouting at the screen. We don't suffer annoying players gladly. It's one of our pet pee-ee-ee-eeves.
The guttural drawing-out of a word is called "vocal fry," probably because it fries the brains of anyone compelled to listen to a person saying, "all ry-heeeeet," "yeh-hesssssss" and "I'll make it a true daily doub-hull-hull."
Other terms for the same ailment are "creaky voice," laryngealization, glottal scrape and pulse register, not one of which makes any sense to me, and it has to do with air passing through the vocal folds.
That explanation suggests a person speaks this way involuntarily, the way hiccups are involuntary. Unfortunately, it sounds plenty voluntary to the listener.
Vocal fry is like "upspeak," another speech quirk that drives people nuts. Because when a person talks like this? It's painful? And you catch yourself thinking fondly of Homer Simpson? Reaching for Bart's neck?
Vocal fry and upspeak both are associated with people in California's San Fernando Valley. They've been around a long time -- the talk and the people, not to mention the valley -- and I once would have said nothing was worse than upspeak. Not even people who say "no problem" instead of "you're welcome." And "yuppers" instead of "yes."
It turns out, though, vocal fry is worse than upspeak. It's worse because of how it loosens one's fragile defense against the lower impulses. You think, "Oh, this person has, what's that thing called? Vocal fry! How interesting. I think I'll commit a felony."
A disc jockey on a radio station I listen to while driving has honed her vocal fry doing local commercials. "Don't miss this sale on ti-urrrzzzz," she intones, and "Visit the farmers mar-keh-het-het," causing me to change the station to anything else, which usually turns out to be George Thorogood or the SiriusXM promotional tape.
I'd have thought vocal fry and upspeak would have moved on to wherever, and I'd have guessed they'd moved to wherever speech patterns go after they run through Ohio. Millennials supposedly are responsible for these particular vocal habits. Not that I'm blaming millennials. How could I, when my own generation said "oh, wow" and "bummer" and liked shag carpet?
Anyway, I couldn't identify a millennial with binoculars and a field guide. I never know if it refers to people born at the turn of the century or of age at the turn of the century.
Not to change the subject, but if we must categorize entire generations of people, could we please let each group choose its own name? I, for one, have never liked the postwar "baby boomer" label. It might have been cute when we were toddling around in rompers and Mickey Mouse ears, but now it's just silly. Let everybody vote.
Some group probably would wind up with a name like Boaty McBoatface, the winner of a British ship-naming contest, but I for one think McBoatfacers is better than an alliterative phrase with "baby" in it.
As for vocal fry-yi-yi-yi, I'm prepared to be patient. Speech fads come and speech fads go. Then another speech fad comes, and it'll probably be worse.
Let's live in the present? If we can?
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.