Talking in “staccato tart tones” is how I’ve always described the American Woman’s gravelly voice. These days, it’s improper to suggest that the sound emitted from the gobs of tele-ditzes, and lots of other women, is just vile.
So the famous Economist column, “Johnson,” is explaining the politically proper terms for this audial assault. Incidentally. Dr. Samuel Johnson, the ultra-conservative polymath after whom this liberal column is named, would have taken his cane to any woman who addressed him in such “staccato tart tones.”
Two vocal features are associated with young women: vocal fry and uptalk. Uptalk, as the name suggests, is the rising intonation that makes statements sound like questions? And vocal fry—often said to be typical of Kim Kardashian, an American celebrity—happens at the ends of words and phrases when a speaker’s vocal chords relax, giving the voice a kind of creaky quality (a bit like something frying in a pan).
From these descriptions, an alien observer would be bemused to learn that these harmless phenomena drive some people to scorn, or even anger. But they do. When Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, had sexually assaulted her, some viewers were so infuriated by her speaking style that they denounced it on Twitter: “Christine Blasey Ford’s little girl voice…vocal fry, and uptalk worse than clubbed toenails down a chalkboard.” …
… And men fry all the time, too. Critics of the fry-panic have discovered it in the back catalogues of George W. Bush, Kurt Cobain (who was the lead singer for Nirvana, a grunge-rock band), and Ira Glass (an American radio host). None are known as sexy babies.
Moreover, vocal fry is, in a way, uptalk’s technical opposite. It tends to happen when speakers are relaxing their voices to try to make them sound deeper than they naturally are.