It's a problem affecting mostly younger women.
I first noticed the problem -- and it is
a problem -- years ago, while listening to Air America broadcasts on the computer. The female hosts did not creak to an annoying degree, but some of the vocal talent used in the commercials creaked deafeningly. One commercial featured a creaky-voiced young woman who sounded so much like a socket wrench I thought someone was removing spark plugs.
Apparently, many people consider this vocal affectation professional or sexy or both. It isn't.
You almost never hear this phenomenon in old films, television shows or radio broadcasts. Women's voices used to be much clearer, much more dignified. True, the afore-linked NPR broadcast does cite the example of Mae West, an early-day creaker. But her example hardly proves a rule -- and the prospect of a nation filled with young Mae West imitators is too dismal to contemplate.
I think we must not be afraid to make a judgment call (despite what you read here
). Creak is an absolute evil. I will not tolerate Creak Apologists. Our daughters (and sons) must be taught that the creak reeks.
Bill Dash, friend to this blog, has noticed the creak as well. He thinks that the earlier examples are mostly male. Edward G. Robinson
, for example, was a classic creaker -- if you can picture him saying "Oh yeeeaaaahhhhh?" then you know what a creak sounds like. Bogie
could also creak with the best of 'em. (I would also suggest W.C. Fields.)
Creak is a vowel thing. If you can make your vowels sound like rusty shutter hinges swinging in the wind, you have mastered the technique. But how did a vocal maneuver perfected by Warner Brothers tough guys become associated, in our time, with young women hoping to sound sophisticated? Bill's theory:
I have a hunch that latter day creaking may have evolved, at least in part, from female correctional inmates. As you know, in recent years, there’s been a marked increase in the number of women being incarcerated. People are often surprised to learn that women in prison tend to be much cliquier and harder on each other than male convicts. Adopting a well-tuned creak would be a useful way of signaling that you’re jake and not green, or easy meat.
I’d wager that a study of women from the wealthiest, most well established, old money families would probably reveal a virtual absence of creaking.
I'm not so sure of that. Our culture has become egalitarian only in this regard: Any bad habit that afflicts one class tends to hit 'em all.
One of our readers, zee, suggests that the greater problem is Marilyn Monroe-style breathiness. Yes, that too is an annoying affectation; fortunately, one does not encounter it very often these days. I used to hear it all the time -- mostly from gay guys. Back in the 1970s, I briefly worked in a store in West Hollywood, and I became really annoyed with the effeminate guys who, for fear of sounding butch, refused to speak up clearly. When the trappings of your sexual identity impede practicality, do the world a favor and go for the practical.
Some evidence indicates that the first young women to adopt the creak lived in the San Fernando Valley, my old home, back in the 1980s. At the same time, another Valley girl-ism infected the general population: That sharp little exhalation signifying annoyance. Imagine an easily-peeved teenaged girl saying: "Like..." (sharp little huff)..."I'm sure
!" Moon Unit, what has thou wrought?