It is a truism that the way people speak becomes a matter of habitual acceptance by those in their communities upon whose ears the speech falls. PJ O’ Rourke (whose work you really should read) once described, cruelly, but accurately and hilariously, the Liverpool accent as the sound of a goose being buggered by a car horn. The adenoids with which all scousers are born are huge, and no sound gets past them without sounding like … see above. But we Brits are used to it, and it bothers us not, or not much.
But something genetically upsetting has happened to American females of all ages, almost all of whom produce high pitched adenoidal honking which makes Liverpule speech positively pleasant by comparison. Just listen next time a Yankee or Southern Belle are trying to convey meaning to you on radio or TV. To start with, they have all apparently developed excessively shortened vocal chords, the length of which dictates how high- or low-pitched speech emerges. Females have shorter chords than males. Choirboys’ chords have not yet lengthened to male dimensions.
But with so many American females, that shortness has become even shorter, so their voices are just below screech level. Now add to that the curious matter of the intrusive adenoids which give those voices an extra edge of unpleasantness. Sometimes it sounds as though the speaker is making noises that come out of the top of her head, through a very small hole and a deposit of molasses.
It is impossible to replicate the adenoidal American female in the written word. The best I can do is offer an example: The word “and” is pronounced by such people as yee-end. But listen for it (you won’t have to wait very long) and you’ll hear. In fact, if you happened to be watching the One Show on Beeb1 on Monday 12th March this year, you will have been treated, if that the right word, to perfect examples. I recognised Oprah Winfrey and enjoyed listening to her talking about a film in which she has played a part. Voice, normal. Accent, acceptable American. Not a honk to be heard. But alongside her were two other American gals, one white, the other not so much, also involved in the film, and whose names I did not catch. What I did catch was appalling adenoidal honking in stereo. So bad, that however much I was enjoying watching and listening to Ms Winfrey, I turned the TV off.
What I was hearing from the two adenoidal gals was, I think, phneee nyeee bleeee screeee yeeend mneeeee greeeee phneeee. Impossible.
I have no idea how this affliction could be cured other than a mass American female adenoidectomy. Failing that, as I explained above, I spring athletically towards my TV remote or the radio off-button and banish them to the world of honking screech whence they came.
But here’s a double mystery. First, this problem seems to be confined to the younger American female (under 30, say). Why? And second, American men of any age do not seem to be similarly afflicted. Why not?