Vocal Fry Is The Fancy Term For A Creaky Voice
You've definitely heard it before: that low, creaky way of speaking, especially by young women at the end of a sentence. It's called vocal fry, and though its spread through pop culture probably began with a 2010 study in American Speech, it's been around much longer. One of the earliest mentions of vocal fry, or "creaky voice," was in 1964 by linguist John C. Catford, and the sound is a standard phoneme in many other languages. But that aforementioned 2010 paper was among the first to recognize it as a phenomenon in young American women. It found that female college students in California used vocal fry much more often than their male peers, and that college students generally perceive women speaking in such a way as "hesitant, nonaggressive, and informal but also educated, urban-oriented, and upwardly mobile." Even so, men do it too: in 2015, The Toast compiled video clips of men like Johnny Depp and Tom Hardy using vocal fry. And in an episode of This American Life, host Ira Glass pointed out that despite the fact he uses it constantly, the only complaints about vocal fry that the show gets are for its female contributors.
So how does it work? In normal speech, your vocal folds (also known as vocal cords) come together as air moves through the space between them. This causes them to vibrate and create sound. To speak in a higher-pitch tone, also known as falsetto, your vocal folds stretch tightly, allowing only the edges to vibrate. To speak in that lowest register known as fry, the vocal folds come together, but loosely, creating a sort of random rattling rather than a predictable vibration. Learn more about the science and culture of vocal fry in the videos below.