Whats the word for...?
March 28, 2006 9:39 AM   Subscribe

What is the word for...when someone speaks in a different accent or tone to depict the fact that they are not totally committed to what they are saying (either for amusement or fear of reprisal)?

I have noticed a lot of people (from kids to adults) use a special voice or tone when they are saying something but they want it to be intepreted differently from the meaning that the actual words themselves (eg if presented in an email) would suggest.

Examples include using a sqeaky voice or maybe a false lisp (especially pre teen girls!) through to using an amusing accent. The effect is often to soften the impact of the words used.

(Guess similar thing would using the "double quotes" indicator by waggling your first two fingers on each hand in rabbit ear style!)

Will be interested in any suggestions, however far fetched!
posted by pettins to Writing & Language (20 answers total)
posted by jon_kill at 9:41 AM on March 28, 2006

I would say "sardonic."
posted by Gator at 9:50 AM on March 28, 2006

Perhaps "affectation."
posted by arco at 9:54 AM on March 28, 2006

Just to clarify would this include say affecting a "Southern" accent to (depending on the situation) show a tone of bigotry or stupidity or, alternately, to show that you are down to earth and a "man of the people?"
posted by Pollomacho at 9:57 AM on March 28, 2006

"Ironical"? Here's a thorough AskMe discussion of the gestural accompaniment.
posted by Snerd at 10:21 AM on March 28, 2006

This sounds rather like the sketch "Heavy Sarcasm" from the early Saturday Night Live.

Jane Curtin was the talk show hostess "Joan Face," and the idea was that she spoke entirely in complimentary platitudes, but the tone of her voice expressed immense disdain for guests and topics alike:

"I hear you've just written a book about Bruce and Christy Jenner. That must have been a really rewarding experience. . . . I'm sure your book will sell millions."

This, and the other examples you give, would all seem to fall under the heading of irony.
posted by La Cieca at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2006

I'm all about creating a new word to describe this one. How about Unsincerity? The condition when someone is unsure about how to present information so they speak in an insincere tone?
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:53 AM on March 28, 2006

La Cieca, I am afraid that you are living up to your name and not seeing it. What you describe is as ironic as Alanis Morrissette's song of that name, i.e. not at all. It is, in actuality, straightforward sarcasm, heavy sarcasm as the title implies, but nothing to do with irony.
posted by TheRaven at 11:03 AM on March 28, 2006

CF. MM Bakhtin, Problem's of Dostoyevsky's Poetics, if you have any interest in deconstructing the concept academically. (Regardless, Bakhtin's Dialogic Theory certainly applies) If I were to try to rework Bakhtinian jargon fit your concept, I'd call it an "intrinsically polyphonic utterance."
posted by jrb223 at 11:09 AM on March 28, 2006

Pollomacho, I hope pettins answers your question, because I'm having a hard time parsing it -- more examples would be useful.

using the "double quotes" indicator by waggling your first two fingers on each hand

I really hate it when people do that. Maybe this is why I'm having difficulty understanding pettins' question, something Aspergers-related, problems I have interpreting the full spectrum of human communication.
posted by Rash at 11:26 AM on March 28, 2006

Pollomacho: There's an example of a regional accent being used this way in the movie Baseketball ("Oh, sorry. I forgot how much Doug Remer cares about kids.")
posted by aubilenon at 11:29 AM on March 28, 2006


I don't know. There are of course several different types of irony. But I'm thinking of verbal irony, i.e., a contradiction between the words spoken and the meaning intended. Sarcasm is one admittedly unsubtle type of verbal irony.

Actually I can't quite get a handle on what pettins means by "not totally committed to what they are saying." Is this statement totally sincere, or is pettins being ironic? ("Darling, once you said you would climb the highest mountain for my love. Now that you've forgotten our anniversary three years in a row, I sense you were not totally committed to what you were saying.")
posted by La Cieca at 11:48 AM on March 28, 2006

I think maybe the poster means the tone you use when rolling your eyes and saying something.... "Oh, evolution can't possibly be correct. God put the fossils there to test our faith, doncha know!"

I think 'parody' is the closest idea to what I'm thinking of, only verbal, not written.

Is that more or less what you meant, pettins?
posted by Malor at 12:09 PM on March 28, 2006

What a fantastic response - Thanks to all so far....much appreciated.

I think that the answer lies somewhere between Pollomachos and Malor's responses.

It is more obvious than irony or scarcasm - The aim is that the recipient definately knows that they are using this special voice.

I was originally going to use the example of a Yorkshire accent in England but Pollomachos use of the presumably US Southern accent is just as good. Its a way of deliberately flagging the special interpretation of the words used.

This is brill - I can't believe how good you guys are in coming up with such a variety of views, all along the right lines....
posted by pettins at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2006

Other examples:

- "Thats totally old fashioned dude" (My 10 year old in a false Wayne's World type accent" referring to my reference to Cinderella.

- "Why thank you, you are so kind" (thanking a colleague for yet another drink from the works drinks machine - its not so much irony, just that you can get fed up saying the same thing ten times a day...and yet you still appreciate your colleague for taking the trouble to get up and get the drinks)

- various actors using slightly camp voices to make something sound funnier

- "Eeh up, I feel right fantastic" (in a strong Yorkshire accent). Its not so much that they don't feel fantastic (which would be irony) but that they feel slightly embarrased saying that they feel fantastic (especially if they are British!)
posted by pettins at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2006

Ironic detachment is a stratagem for concealing one's feelings by suggesting their opposite, for example feigning boredom in the face of danger, or amusement in the face of insult.

From this review.
P.S. Your quotation-mark gesture is often called air quotes.
posted by rob511 at 2:22 PM on March 28, 2006

rob's got it, I think.
posted by Malor at 2:56 PM on March 28, 2006

My (Swedish) conversations with my friends often degenerate into strange English (using a random, but strong, accent), or into intentionally bad German. We use it much like the "Why thank you, you are so kind" and "I feel right fantastic" examples above - it's not sarcasm or irony, it's usually more for variation and amusement.

It also seems like a sort of postmodern and detached thing to do; you take on a role - often a recognizable cultural stereotype - and filter whatever you want to say through that role, making you sound exaggeratedly posh, or like a mad scientist, or whatever.

I don't think you're talking about ironic detachment, even if it contains elements of both detachment and irony.
posted by martinrebas at 3:13 PM on March 28, 2006

I don't think you're talking about ironic detachment, even if it contains elements of both detachment and irony.

It's closer to ironic sincerity, isn't it? But that particular strain of contemporary irony that contains a significant measure of genuineness, ala The Darkness, perhaps.
posted by drewbeck at 7:28 PM on March 28, 2006

The use of innernet geek-kid-whatever speak functions similarly. I can't find any good examples handy, but people often use things like OMG, LOL, and the !!!!!1!!1 to self-consciously express strong emotions. There's something here about appropriating the language of people that (we imagine) would authentically express the particular sentiment, whereas the speaker knows to temper any kind of extreme outburst …
posted by drewbeck at 7:41 PM on March 28, 2006

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