You want fries with that?

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Following up on "Freedom Fries", it's worth pointing out that some of the most spectacular examples of creaky voice and vocal fry on This American Life don't come from the young women on the program, but from the host, Ira Glass. Here's the first half-sentence of his opening from the segment on vocal fry:

Ira Glass OK, so let's all just pause here for a second, for something that is so rare on public radio — or, you know, I guess anywhere, actually —

The first phrase, "Okay, so", has got a clear example of period-doubling at the end — though it's short and soft enough that it may be hard to hear:

The end of the next phrase, "is so rare on public radio", gets low enough and long enough  for creak to be audible:

And here's the start of his aside, "or, you know, I guess":

"I guess" has 12 pitch periods in 174 msec., for a mean frequency of 12/0.174 = 69 Hz, but also, the spacing of the pulses is erratic.

And finally, in "anywhere, actually" the creak and fry get serious:

In the third syllable of "anywhere", the pitch period abruptly doubles from about 13 milliseconds (= 77 Hz) to an average of around 26 ms (= 38 Hz), but erratically, so that successive periods are about 30, 20, 17, 34, 30 ms.

[By the way, if you're a bit puzzled about what "vocal fry" really is, an older LLOG post "Real fry" (6/19/2014) may help.]

So why don't listeners complain about this aspect of Ira Glass's voice? Since people complain with some finite probability about just about everything, and This American Life has a lot of listeners, I suppose that a few people probably do complain from time to time about his voice quality — but I bet that this is radically less common than the complaints about the program's female voices.

And for lagniappe, here's an older radio personality demonstrating that it's not just young people who can deploy creak and fry (from "'I've Enjoyed Every Minute Of It': Carl Kasell On His 60 Years In Radio", Morning Edition 5/16/2014:

Oh, and then there's this:


  1. Edward Vanderpump said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 10:47 am

    I wonder if there are any good examples in another British comedy series, "A Bit of Fry & Laurie"?

  2. David L said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 10:51 am

    I don't know how to express this in a precise way, but I think part of the issue is that fry stands out more in a higher pitched woman's voice than in a deeper and more sonorous male voice. Even though Cronkite is frying with abandon, I don't find it as noticeable in him as when a woman with a lighter voice lapses into fry at the end of a sentence, say.

    [(myl) It's certainly plausible that there might be some sort of instrinsic contrast effect — but in the cases that I've looked at, for the most part things scale pretty much in proportion. So it's also possible that the effect has to do with violation of learned associations, like the visual effect of a bald woman.]

  3. Bloix said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 11:39 am

    Ira Glass, who is straight, is famous for his gay affect:

    "“He’s so gay,” my girlfriend said before the movie, as we sank into the comfortably broken-in Writers Guild seats and watched Mr. Glass work the room. “It’s awesome. He’s, like, the gayest man alive.”

    “I don’t think he is,” I said. “I think I heard him mention a girlfriend once.”

    “Was he speaking of a shopping buddy?”

    “I didn’t get that impression,” I said. But watching him, it was tough to believe…

    … during the Q&A, Mike Birbiglia joked that an early cut of the film left audiences with the impression that none of the filmmakers had ever had a relationship with a woman. “And people already make that assumption about Ira.”

    … And the room suddenly, en masse, whispered to itself. Ira Glass’s sexuality was more important than whatever else these clowns were going to say.

    A few minutes later Mike Birbiglia mentioned “our wives,” and that was that. The room quietly, politely raised its eyebrow and turned down the corners of its mouth in a “Reaaaaaaalllllllllllly?” The room shifted in its seat, impatient now to get to the wine-and-cheese reception and give Ira Glass one more discreet up-close up-and-down.

    The woman next to us had her iPhone out, searching Ira Glass Gay?"

  4. Mara K said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

    "Lagniappe"? Is that a word you normally use, Mr. Liberman, or are you catching up on Lexicon Valley this week?

    [(myl) It's come up a couple of times, e.g. "Lagniappe" (7/22/2004).]

  5. Alyssa said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 3:15 pm

    "I suppose that a few people probably do complain from time to time about his voice quality"

    I do! I find Ira Glass's way of speaking to be incredibly irritating (along with most other NPR presenters, male and female), though I don't think it's primarily vocal fry that's bothering me. I think it might have more to do with intonation? It's like he's trying super hard to make every mundane sentence sound surprising and insightful and profound all at the same time. Drives me crazy!

  6. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 3:29 pm

    Here's a female TV journalist, Dorothy Fuldheim, from the same period as Walter Cronkite. My amateur ears don't detect any fry or creak. Jerry Rubin, who she's interviewing, seems to have some, which I'd never have noticed if I hadn't been reading these posts.

    I wonder on the basis of one datum whether there has been a change, namely that women, or just those who speak to the public, weren't allowed to fry (vocally) but now are. After all, men were supposed to be rough and women were supposed to be smooth.

  7. Dick H. said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

    I listen to "This American Life" pretty regularly and heard Glass do the segment about vocal fry and the listeners who complain about its presence in the women reporters on the show. It should be noted, however, that Glass himself confessed during the segment that he himself exhibits vocal fry — so this Gotcha about him doing it, too, seems a little superfluous and petty.

    [(myl) Not a "gotcha", but part of an argument that the phenomenon is nearly universal and certainly very common in male media personalities, e.g. Carl Kassel and Walter Cronkite…]

  8. M said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 5:03 pm

    Jerry, maybe you have something there. Speaking solely from personal experience, there's some pressure to have a serious, i.e. lower, voice among certain women, because of the assumption that a higher voice is ditzy, or represents a stereotypical know-nothing lady. But when you drop your voice low, the growling happens. My voice has a lot of fry in it, but if I remove it by consciously keeping my tone higher I feel like I sound like a bubbly ditz.

    My mother (Italian) used to joke about how my father (Chinese) didn't think that she sounded like a woman because her voice was so low. When she raised it to what she thought was a comically high pitch, he thought it sounded much more natural. I wouldn't be surprised if the move into fry range was the result of a certain group of women shifting the range of tone that was "female" to them, and the hate is a backlash against it.

  9. Rubrick said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 5:44 pm

    Ira Glass is well known both for having a "non-radio voice" and for working with others who don't either (notable examples being Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris). He's talked about this himself at some length.

    And while we're on the topic of Ira's vocal qualities, this Onion article is pretty good:,37383/

  10. Jeff W said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 6:39 pm


    I find Ira Glass's way of speaking to be incredibly irritating (along with most other NPR presenters, male and female), though I don't think it's primarily vocal fry that's bothering me. I think it might have more to do with intonation? It's like he's trying super hard to make every mundane sentence sound surprising and insightful and profound all at the same time.

    Wow, I thought I was the only one. I agree completely.* There’s a quality of astonishment and amazement—“Let me see if I’ve got this right—you’re saying everything is made of atoms?”—that sounds, well, completely clueless. (I think the various public radio presenters are trying to act as proxies for their audience, which, no matter how you slice it, would seem to make the practice worse.) It’s one reason why I find RadioLab so difficult to listen to—Robert Krulwich does that interminably.

    *Well, almost: Ira Glass is not an NPR presenter because This American Life is not an NPR show—it was, until last July, distributed by PRI and is now distributed by PRX; in fact, Glass turned NPR down as a distributor. (On the Media, which stresses that it is “NOT NPR” [caps theirs], explains“[w]hat NPR actually is, what it isn't, and how it all got so complicated. ”)

  11. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

    Contrary to what I said earlier, here's Faye Emerson in 1950 with what sounds to like vocal fry.

    I think most of the NPR news people sound like they're so delighted they're about to burst into laughter. They tone it down when reporting plagues, massacres, etc. On the other hand, don't almost all radio speakers use exaggerated vocal effects?

  12. Dick H. said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 10:48 pm

    Contrary to what I said earlier, here's Faye Emerson in 1950 with what sounds to like vocal fry.

    The hilarious thing about this video clip isn't the vocal fry stuff — it's how Faye's disquisition on how unfair it is that men have to wear heavy jackets, shirts with stiff collars, and neckties during the summer, concluding with her walking over to Steve Allen sitting at a piano wearing a T-shirt, has come true. Now only bankers and lawyers wear heavy jackets, shirts with stiff collars, and neckties during the summer. Everyone else more or less wears T-shirts to work … and everywhere else.

  13. Harold said,

    February 4, 2015 @ 1:11 am

    Is this anything like the "grate" heard in male Japanese authority figures? Or deployed with artistic effect in the singing of Louis Armstrong?

    [(myl) The Japanese "hero voice" — at least the version that I hear in historical dramas — sounds to me as if it's made with constricted phrarynx, whereas the typical kind of creak or fry under discussion here is most characteristic of low-pitched regions where everything is relatively relaxed. But I don't have a lot of confidence in this diagnosis-from-memory, and I don't know of any studies.]

  14. Martin J Ball said,

    February 4, 2015 @ 3:02 am

    @DickH I can assure you no-one wears t-shirts to work here in Sweden in winter!!

  15. GH said,

    February 4, 2015 @ 12:36 pm

    Apparently along with other commenters, I do wonder if there's some aspect of the speech-trait that annoys people that isn't captured by these spectrographic analyses (and may go beyond the acoustic-linguistic definition of vocal fry). For example, it would surprise me if the Faye Emerson clip @Jerry Friedman linked to would elicit that same visceral reaction.

    I find the issue of disliking certain ways of speaking quite interesting. Of course people must be free to have aesthetic preferences without needing to justify them rationally. At the same time there's a troubling political dimension to consider when widespread dislike is so often directed towards the speech patterns of particular groups (or stereotypically associated with certain groups), whether that's young women, gay men or speakers of certain dialects. Personally I've found that learning about these features as linguistic phenomena on the Language Log has helped me step outside of my own prejudices and instead focus on such linguistic variation as a source of fascination.

    Anyway, regarding Ira Glass and his affected intonations, it reminds me of (IIRC) Geoffrey Pullum's dislike of airline cabin announcements, with their curious syntax and modulations. Of course, both conventional PA announcements and radio programs are performances, where the speakers modulate their voices in exaggerated fashions to avoid sounding monotonous. There are also genre expectations, and while Ira Glass may have been untypical at first, This American Life has come to establish one particular style of public radio voice.

    Incidentally, I just came across this article about how everyone on public radio "sound white," and the dilemmas of crafting a radio voice for yourself when your natural speaking voice does not conform to expectations.

  16. Gassalasca said,

    February 5, 2015 @ 1:57 pm

    I was going to suggest something similar to what GH wrote.

    Specifically, a layperson may notice features like more open KIT, DRESS and TRAP vowels for example, but not know the appropriate terminology, and so instead use "fry" as an umbrella term for all the features that he or she finds annoying.

  17. Renee E. King said,

    February 5, 2015 @ 9:04 pm

    @M, fry isn't an inevitable consequence of speaking at a lower pitch. It's more closely related to low airflow; that's why it's also most frequently found at the ends of phrases. You can adjust your speaking pitch without fry (within reason) if you maintain consistent airflow.

    [(myl) Keep in mind that the larynx is a complex organ with many degrees of freedom — there's externally-applied longitudinal tension in the vocal folds, mainly controlled by the cricothyroid muscle; there's internal muscular contraction, via the vocalis muscle, which also affects the degree of coupling between the vocal-cord body and the covering connective tissue and membrane; there's adduction/abduction as controlled by the interarytenoids and the cricoarytenoids; there's the vertical tension in the vocal folds, perhaps controlled by the geniothyroid, thyrohyoid etc.; there's the state of the false vocal folds, which can make a big difference in glottal flow patterns; etc.

    So it's true that, other things equal, lower subglottal pressure tends to lead to period doubling or chaotic oscillation; but lots of other considerations also apply.]

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    February 5, 2015 @ 10:21 pm

    GH: I too wonder whether that Faye Emerson clip would make any of the fry-haters (maridophobes?) suicidal.

    My next hypothesis will be that, at least in former times, the acceptability of fry from women correlated with their degree of décolletage. Should only take me a few videos to refute, but they might be enjoyable.

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