"Crispy Rs"

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Dan Nosowitz, "The ‘Crispy R’ and Why R Is the Weirdest Letter", Atlas Obscura 11/2/2023:

The crispy R is a phenomenon that some linguists had noticed, but which had gone largely unstudied—until the phrase “crispy R” was bestowed on it by Brian Michael Firkus, better known as Trixie Mattel, the winner of the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, and later popularized via TikTok. The sound is easier to point out than it is to either describe or reproduce. Some of the most frequent users of this unusual-sounding R include Kourtney Kardashian, Max Greenfield of New Girl fame, Stassi from Vanderpump Rules, and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend. It sounds, to me at least, like a sort of elongated, curled sound, a laconic way of saying R.

There are some demos in this TikTok video (warning: autoplay), and a lot more discussion in Nosowitz's post, including general stuff about why r-ish sounds in general are diversely weird, and more specific crispy-r analysis from Tara McAllister and Jeff Mielke.

There's speculation that maybe "crispy" means retroflex as opposed to bunched. I'm not hearing a clear difference in the TikTok video examples, or in such memories as I have of the various celebrities identified as crispy-r speakers, but maybe I'm just not focusing crisply enough.

[h/t Bob Shackleton]




  1. Mark Dow said,

    November 2, 2023 @ 10:38 pm

    The adjective "crispy" seems not only wrong but pretty close to exactly the opposite of the nature of this sound to me.

  2. Mark Dow said,

    November 2, 2023 @ 11:36 pm

    This roughness seems closer to crispy:

    "… in the United States, the trilled /r/-roughness correspondence was invoked by the historic marketing slogan for the Ruffles-brand potato chip, “R-R-Ruffles have R-R-Ridges”, spoken in advertisements with an extended trilled /r/…."

    from Bodo Winter et al., "Trilled /r/ is associated with roughness, linking sound and touch across spoken languages" at https://rdcu.be/dp9ON.

  3. Viseguy said,

    November 2, 2023 @ 11:50 pm

    The video went straight over my head, and I have no idea what "crispy" means in this context. But I had a friend whose family moved to New Jersey from Scotland when she was 7 years old and who had trouble understanding her new American classmates. They'd say something like, "It costs five dollars!", and she'd be left wondering, "What's a rollar?"

  4. J Gunn said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 12:35 am

    It doesn't sound retroflex to me. It sounds rounded and back of the more common R, and a little nasal — an R with more space in it.

  5. JPL said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 1:11 am

    Based on what the fellow in the Tiktok video says at the outset, it sounds neither bunched nor retroflex, but rather like the tip of the tongue (apical?) tapping against the alveolar ridge or post-alveolar area, and could be produced as far as the palatal, but not in that instance. I'm no authority whatsoever on this area, but I'll venture the possibly inaccurate impression that Scottish English does seem to have that articulation where the other dialects have bunched (central approximant) or retroflex. Also, I have the feeling that it's common in other English dialects in the context of a preceding plosive.

    (I just looked at the video of the linguist pronouncing, and she is making a retroflex 'r', and saying that that is the "crispy r", but the first Tiktok fellow in pronouncing "graham cracker" is using the tapped (post-) alveolar 'r'. The difference is that in the latter, the tip of the tongue, although pointed up, is what is making contact, as in the trilled type, whereas with the bunched and retroflex it's the sides of the tongue that make contact, and the airflow is released centrally, as opposed to laterally, as with the 'l' sound. Now I definitely have heard many BE (in general, it could be associated with particular regional dialects (e.g., Durham)) speakers using this "crispy r" in the context I described above. Maybe even Philip Taylor uses it.)

  6. Jarek Weckwerth said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 5:04 am

    There's no way I'm listening to anything on TikTok, so I can't judge the samples. But (1) the OP is a totally perfect example of how a person lacking phonetic terminology will always be at a loss trying to describe speech articulations and (2) with reference to JPL's comment, Newcastle and the adjacent area, including Durham, used to have a uvular variant, so maybe that's a useful lead?

  7. David Marjanović said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 5:45 am

    After declining all cookies and closing the login window, I reset the video to the beginning and turned its sound on. It seems "crispy" just means "not retroflex" – [ɹ] as opposed to [ɻ].

  8. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 8:15 am

    This phenomenon seems anecdotally to be linked to vowel fronting, upspeak, vocal fry, etc.; what we used to call in the ‘90’s, “collegegirlspeak”. Is there any empirical confirmation (or refutation) of this? Asking for, like, a frieeeénd.

  9. Cervantes said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 8:18 am

    I don't know what "crispy" means in this context but a single trilled R is standard in Spanish, and triple-trilled is spelled RR. The latter is the ruffles have ridges sound. Opera singers often trill their Rs. It's done by tapping the front of the palate for the R, or letting it flutter for the RR. Brass instrument players can similarly flutter the tongue to get a growling sound. The Scottish R is similar to the Spanish R, I think, and may even be trilled for emphasis. My uncle, a minister from Scotland, told the tale of a pastor who said in a sermon "Par-r-radoxical as it may seem to you, oh Laird .. . "

  10. Benjamin Ernest Orsatti said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 8:32 am

    Seems as though there are at least 3 varieties of trilled R's, aren't there? There's the "flap", which varies from the ever-so-slight "Texan" medial flap, as in "impoRTant" to the "fuller" "Italian" flap, as in "caRo". But then Italian also has at several other types of trills — the "light" dental trill, as in "Rigatoni", the "prolonged" dental trill, as in "aRRivaderci", and the retroflex trill, as in "Rosso", during which the tongue almost completely curls back on itself.

  11. Chris Button said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 1:31 pm

    I tend to roll my eyes when the whole "isn't 'r' special" topic comes up.

    To quote Ladefoged & Maddieson (sounds of the world's languages): "… the overall unity of the group seems to rest mostly on the historical connections between these subgroups, and on the choice of the letter 'r' to represent them all."

  12. Kris said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 2:32 pm

    "Crispy R" is a really bad name for this phenomenon, because it's the opposite of crispy. But maybe it got this name from Giada de Lorentis (who was one of the first people I ever noticed with really strong tendency towards this pronunciation), and most frequently heard when she describes foods as "crispy" or "creamy." I wish they would have called it "Creamy R" because that's a much better description anyway. I personally don't like this pronunciation, which makes me particularly cringe at Kroger commercials. If you live in their geographic footprint, you probably noticed they quite obviously go out of their way to specifically have their voice actors accentuate crispy Rs in the pronunciation of both Rs of Kroger.

    The method of articulations seems to me to involve avoiding use of the tip of the tongue and the front of the mouth to the greatest possible degree when producing the R sound. It's entirely from the back/sides of the tongue. Make a concentrated effort to keep the tip of your tongue away from all surfaces in your mouth while producing an R and you will get this crispy R effect. Make the sound come from the back of the mouth while doing so and it's more pronounced.

  13. Terry K. said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 3:12 pm


    What you describe seems to be how I naturally pronounce an R when speaking English. No avoiding anything involved, just natural pronunciation. If I stop in the middle of the R, the tip of the tongue, it's pretty much sitting in the middle of the mouth not touching anything. I believe this is what's called a bunched R.

  14. JPL said,

    November 3, 2023 @ 9:14 pm

    The tapped apico-alveolar version of the category of what are grouped together by English speakers as "r sounds", as opposed to the central approximant (retroflex or bunched) version, is exemplified here clearly by actor Gerard Butler, in the linked video at 2:20 (in the pronunciation of "scran"), and earlier at :55 ("drunk"). He does not tap all of his "r"s; rather they mainly seem to follow plosives, as I described above. (He uses it also intervocalically in "barry" and "Gerry" later, and initially in "rank", but still not in all contexts.) This variant I have observed also being used by speakers of (some varieties of) BE.


    I could be mistaken, but the pronunciation of the "r"s in "graham cracker" by the first speaker in the Tiktok video, introducing the topic, is not reproduced by any of the other examples in that video (by the woman's imitations) or Ellen Degeneres or the linguist, who seem to all be producing probably the retroflex approximant, rather than the tapped version. My impression is that the first Tiktok speaker is producing the tap, but others may hear it differently. In any case, these two articulations are distinct; the question is then, which one are they referring to as the "crispy r"? (I agree that if it's the approximant, then the description as "crispy" is inapt.) What then is the phenomenon that people find intriguing?

  15. Boudica said,

    November 5, 2023 @ 3:01 pm

    It sounds to me in the video like a vocal fry "r".

  16. Daniel said,

    November 9, 2023 @ 5:33 pm

    I think what she is talking about is most clear in her imitation of Max Greenfield.

    I think what makes and "r" crispy is coarticulation with the preceding consonant sound that quickly moves to the vowel.

    This is what my choir director would call "energizing your consonants". That is, make them powerful but short in duration to get on with the vowel. It definitely feels like it takes more energy to do this, so it's a good description.

  17. JPL said,

    November 10, 2023 @ 12:06 am


    But if you take the utterance of the word "crime" in the imitation, there is a sequence between the articulation of the stop and the articulation of the following continuant (as opposed to release as a vowel); the term 'coarticulation' refers to the simultaneous articulation at two different places, as in the (Niger-Kordofanian language) Mende word 'kpaa' ("farm"), where you have simultaneous articulation of the initial single plosive (if I had a ligature at my disposal I would have used it to unify the two consonant symbols) at the velum and the lips, which is then released at both places simultaneously, which, since it requires more pressure to be built up behind the obstruction, results in a more "explosive" impression. Strangely, that does seem to fit your choir director's description, but I don't hear anything special happening in the woman's examples. But credit is due for at least for trying to answer the question.

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