Vocal Fry: What It Is, How It Became Popular And Why Women Should Be Wary

Last week I was watching Red Eye, a late night news program on Fox–hosted by libertarian Greg Gutfeld–where panelists discuss the latest in politics, entertainment, and other current events. In one segment, they discussed the rising popularity in a vocal affectation known as “Vocal Fry.” This wasn’t the first time Red Eye has discussed the phenomenon. In fact, panelist Joanne Nosuchinsky has a recurring segment called Vocal Fry News  which points out how annoying speaking this way can be.

Photo courtesy of Gareth Williams

Photo courtesy of Gareth Williams

Vocal fry, also known as glottal fry, happens when the vocal folds vibrate very slowly. The vibration causes a slow, low pitch vocal burst, making the voice sound “crackly” like bacon frying, hence the term fry. While this is an actual disorder that some people seek treatment to remedy, women in growing numbers are speaking this way on purpose. While vocal fry has been around for years (Mae West  used it in movies back in the thirties to amp up her sex appeal), it has become increasing popular in the past decade. First, female vocalists began using it to help them sing in a lower register–think Britney Spears or Kesha; that low growl thing they do is vocal fry. This trend carried over into television and quickly became popular among high school and college-aged young women.

The Today Show  did a segment on vocal fry in which NBC’s Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman pointed out that “girls will pick it up because it makes them feel like part of the macroculture,” citing the popularity of reality shows like Keeping up with the Kardashians. While the Today Show piece singled out the Kardashians as frequent users of the vocal fry, Dr. Nicole Maronian, a laryngologist and voice disorders specialist with University Hospitals, noted on a Cleveland news program  that Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy has had a bit of a vocal fry throughout her run on television, possibly to capture the tired/stressed personality of her character. The character Dalia  on ABC’s Suburgatory also has a distinct voice epitomized by the vocal fry.

Photo of Kim Kardashian courtesy of Eva Rinaldi

Photo of Kim Kardashian courtesy of Eva Rinaldi

Women have embraced various speaking trends over the years, copying the speech patterns of It Girls from Clueless to Mean Girls to the Kardashians. So, what’s the big deal? The problem is, vocal fry is not just a trendy way to speak. It can actually cause damage, literally and figuratively. Dr. Maronian points out that using vocal fry is problematic for three reasons: It’s fatiguing on the vocal cords, it can cause swelling and muscle memory that causes it to become a habit, and it can even cause lesions that require surgery to treat. Definitely not cute. On a professional level, there are concerns that women who speak this way are hindering themselves professionally. A recent story in The Atlantic  confirms this theory, with a study that shows potential employers have a more negative view of women who speak with a vocal fry and tend to consider them less professional. As one female business expert put it, “If a woman wants to become a CEO, she shouldn’t sound like the daughter of a CEO.”