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On a recent Language Log posting Vocal fry: "creeping in" or "still here"?, Mark Liberman discusses an (also) recent article about the phenomenon of 'vocal fry' and shows how it has been around for quite awhile in the US (lots of references in that blog post).

I personally had never heard of this term, have never heard anybody talk about this phenomenon, have never heard anybody talk in the described manner, and frankly can't hear anything special in those utterances even where pointed out.

But my sound-blindness is not the issue. What I'd like to know is where the term 'vocal fry' comes from. Who coined it or where did people start using it? Presumably it is metaphorical (a 'frying' sound?). The blog posting doesn't address that, and wading through the references hasn't turned up anything yet.

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I hadn't ever heard the term either (not surprising; I'm not a phonetician like Mark). The Wikipedia article identifies and describes the sounds, but says nothing about what metaphor fry refers to: frying sounds, spawn or young fish, effects of overheating, ... Could be lots of things, but since it's an auditory perception phenomenon, my guess would be the sound of bacon frying. –  John Lawler Dec 31 '11 at 22:49
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Fry: A low-pitched vocal quality so called because the sound is similar to food cooking in a hot frying pan. It is characterized by intermittent "pops" of sound and produced by the vocal folds opening and closing irregularly and unrhythmically. –  FumbleFingers Dec 31 '11 at 23:31
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Both men and women tend to think a deeper voice is "sexier". Frying gives something of the illusion of that, and generally adds "character" to a voice if not overdone. –  FumbleFingers Dec 31 '11 at 23:33
    
Have heard the girls fryin', but had no idea it was a phenom with a name. Hmmm. I don't know. Maybe vocal dying would be a better name. It sounds old and feeble. –  sarah Jan 4 '12 at 9:39
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3 Answers

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Exactly right, it's because it's supposed to sound like the popping or sizzling of bacon frying.

the term was first used in "Dynamic Variations of the Vibratory Pattern in the Normal Larynx" by Paul Moore and Hans Von Leden in 1959 as far as I can find.

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Well, it's used here in 1931 - admittedly of apes, not Anglophones. And here in 1949, in a "clinical" context. Not really the kind of expression that needs a "first use" - as you say, the imagery is pretty transparent, even if must of us have never heard of it! –  FumbleFingers Dec 31 '11 at 23:27
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Mark, @Fumble: the imagery, since I don't hear the phenomenon, fails for me. I find it hard to picture. –  Mitch Jan 1 '12 at 1:40
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Mark, @Fumble: those source links would be great as an official answer, but they don't link to any actual viewable text for me. Can you give some small quotations of the original? –  Mitch Jan 1 '12 at 1:46
    
@Mitch: Oh - they work for me. I'm probably registered for Google Books, so you should try that if you're not already. But I now see that on the second link I had to click "search" on the first page, to get the actual text "vocal fry". I don't know why it did that. Also note the link in my question comment, defining how it's physically produced, etc. –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '12 at 2:42
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@Hugo: Good catch! You're definitely right about the first link, and probably the second too. But the main point is it's a transparent reference to frying bacon, etc., as Mark says here. In this case, explaining how the metaphor works seems far more important than finding a "first use". –  FumbleFingers Sep 20 '12 at 12:40
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Vocal fry comed from the realm of singing and coins the raspy sound as a NEGATIVE act as in " oh no you are going to fry your vocal chords"

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Do you have a reference for this? –  Mitch Sep 20 '12 at 3:58
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I wrote an article about this in 2009. It's mostly heard with very young women and girls. I believe it's called vocal fry, because the voice sounds as if it's been fried and has become raspy. Young girls sound bitter and cynical when they growl at the end of a sentence.

It very likely began with the Gen X mothers of the Millennias. This generation is scornful of the values of their Baby Boomer parents who left them a legacy of fractured families and federal deficits. Dad was promised a gold watch but got a pink slip instead. Thus, they are cynical and trust only themselves; team play is for Boomers.

As Gen X girls came of age, sturdy, clunky shoes became the rage. Colette Dowling’s 1981 book “The Cinderella Complex” may have inspired them to convey to the world that they had both feet planted firmly on the ground and were not about to depend on a man to take care of them. Sadly, they entered the workforce and encountered the Glass Ceiling.

So, the stage was set for many of these young women to express their cynicism more and more. It can only be assumed that either directly or indirectly their young daughters subconsciously picked it up. Within a few years, their friends picked it up. Now it’s apparently a part of their persona. I truly hope it’s not too late to snuff out this unfortunate trend.

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Do you have a link to your reference? I'm interested in who first came up with the term. –  Mitch Jun 17 '13 at 19:58
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