the destroyer > the vent > Erika Wilder
THEENKS BUT NO THEENKS.
Because I Was Horny And I Felt Like It
While a good amount of attention recently has been given to the “vocal fry” phenomenon (a drawn-out croaking effect that sounds borrrrrrrred, generally used to end sentencehhhhs), I have come across no linguistic research on, and little acknowledgement of, a phenomenon I notice much more: I’ll call it theenk yew.
In both cases the phenomenon most often applies to young women.
theenk yew—I’m using all lowercase to emphasize its smallness— is the new thank you. It’s everywhere, but if you haven’t noticed it yet, listen for it in customer-service-type situations. That is, if a young lady is involved.
theenk yew is high in pitch, nasal-y, and, most interestingly to me, shifts the quality of the vowels. In the case of “thank,” the vowel-sound typically used lands at the bottom of a vowel chart like the one pictured below: a low or low-mid vowel, referring to where the tongue lands while saying it. In theenk yew, however, the vowel moves all the way up to the high, or sometimes called “closed,” position—the tongue is higher and the mouth barely open, giving it a constricted feel. The “yew” part is tougher; I don’t understand what is happening to that vowel-sound in theenk yew, other than that it sounds like the speaker is swallowing it.
I’m going to take the leap that young women have slipped into this habit to sound sweeter, more polite maybe, more female. But if that’s true, there are other ways that speakers can do that and have always done that—for example, by using a higher pitch. But theenk yew takes it further and suggests, to me, that there are actual vowel-sounds that skew more or less feminine. And that the low-to-mid “a” sound, and the way-back “u” sound, are decidedly unfeminine. But what is it about the vowel-sounds that gives them an inherently unfeminine quality? In theenk, could the fact that the vowel rises from low and open to the most “closed” vowel-sound indicate that the goal is to all but shut the mouth? When yew is uttered, it is shortened, curled under, half-swallowed.
Combining this phenomenon with the vocal fry, I’m convinced that the speaker does not only mean to make her utterances more digestible, but to make them nearly disappear.
In many of the recent articles on vocal fry, linguists (see here & here) rush to the defense of young women everywhere, stating that WE are at the forefront of language trends, that before you make the critique that any of these patterns come off insecure, to think about the fact that women are using these effects to some kind of social, interactional end. While I was really impressed with how open-minded, if vague, that argument is, I respectfully disagree. It sounds worse than insecure—it barely sounds like anything at all because it’s barely there. I know speech patterns are hard to change—wait, no, they’re not! That’s WHY these effects are so prevalent in the first place—the more you hear them, the more you pick them up and employ them. So to reverse this trend, which threatens to minimize women’s voices to a peep, I propose adopting an open, confident, mid-vowel THANK and a nice, strong YOU next time someone hands you your coffee. Please. theenks.