It's like saying, 'errr...' with added apathy.
December 17, 2006 2:07 PM   Subscribe

What is doing this called?

When I was a kid, if I woke up early, I used to lay in bed and make that noise. My girlfriend said she did too.

If I'm having a brain-dead attack in work, I make that noise. I like making that noise. I can do it for ages. It's kind of comforting.

Everyone must make that noise. I mean, everyone. I bet when Tony Blair's having a stupid moment, he likes to make that noise too. I bet the Pope, the Queen...

But what the hell is it called? What's its history? Does it have any function? Is it a big part of any language? Is it unique to the human voice box? Does it have any famous moments? What does it do?

Does it have a name? (Surely it's something other than belching?)
posted by popcassady to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not belching at all. Belching or burping is letting trapped gas out of your stomach. If we're doing the same thing we're exhaling (from the lungs) and just making a low, glutteral moan if I had to call it something.
posted by Science! at 2:15 PM on December 17, 2006

Oh my God! I so used to do that as a kid! I used to love the way you could slow it down until it sounded like a series of consecutive sounds/vibrations (not sure how to put this, my linguistics vocabulary sucks).

Not done it in decades tho and, upon trying, I don't find it comforting, I just feel silly.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 2:47 PM on December 17, 2006

The American remake of The Grudge featured this noise a lot. My husband and I got a lot of mileage afterwards by making zombie faces at each other and making the gurgle noise. Does that count as famous?
posted by Addlepated at 2:47 PM on December 17, 2006

One of the weirdest videos I've ever seen. Why is the baseball player dressed in khakis and a polo shirt? Why is it called a PSA? What is it a PSA for? Too funny...

It kind of sounds like purring with your mouth open. I used to do it all the time too.
posted by iconomy at 2:50 PM on December 17, 2006

I dunno, but it reminds me of thoat singing.
posted by Liosliath at 2:54 PM on December 17, 2006

Damn. Piece of something under the r key on my keyboard. "throat"
posted by Liosliath at 2:55 PM on December 17, 2006

I believe that is the creaky voice. As for the video, it's one of a series of remixes of the PSAs they showed after the old GI Joe cartoons.
posted by obvious at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2006

Sounds kinda like glottal fry, also known as "creaky voice".
posted by gubo at 2:58 PM on December 17, 2006

posted by Alt F4 at 3:09 PM on December 17, 2006

I have no idea what it is called but we used to slow it down and compete to see who could "do just one" of 'em.
posted by jtoth at 3:44 PM on December 17, 2006

Yep, thirding creaky voice. The Wikipedia article is pretty good.

Does it have any function? Sometimes. In a handful of languages (e.g. Danish), the creaky vs non-creaky ("modal") phonation distinction is phonemic. So, "foo" and creaky-vowel-"foo" could be different words.

As you note, it also can serve as a discourse filler, or a signal of hesitation/uncertainty, like "um."

The amount of creak even in English varies meaningfully with dialect, social status, gender, etc. I know I've read stuff about creaky-voice as a strong status-marker among English-speaking women, but I can't find a good reference at the moment.

Although I think most often we encounter it simply as an effect of vocal fatigue. People slip into creaky voice a lot as their throats tire. Or, say, first thing in the morning. Or if you're a heavy smoker.
posted by miagaille at 3:49 PM on December 17, 2006

PSA is Public Service Announcement. At the end of every GI Joe cartoon I remember seeing, there was a little clip either just after or before the credits, that was some little morality message such as not to play with matches or something (along the lines of NBC's "The More You Know" that Conan likes to spoof. These are remixes of those PSA's from GI Joe.

I used to make that sound as a kid also, just doing it on my own and not at the suggestion of someone else, weird =P No idea it was even called something.
posted by vanoakenfold at 4:09 PM on December 17, 2006

Creaky voice manifests itself in the idiolects of some American English speakers, particularly at the beginnings of sentences that the speaker wishes to "soft-pedal"

wait, what? people do this? i am wracking my brain trying to think of examples, and the only thing i can think of is martin short's jiminy glick character -- someone enlighten me with a non-fictional example, if you don't mind?
posted by sonofslim at 4:49 PM on December 17, 2006

someone enlighten me with a non-fictional example, if you don't mind?

Listen to some of NPR's arts interviews for long enough and you'll stumble across these vocal affectations. Robert Segal in particular comes to mind; a bit less so with Terri Gross. (I don't recall Jiminy Glick, so I don't know if it's similar to what you're imagining.)
posted by mykescipark at 5:35 PM on December 17, 2006

Creaky voice drives my dogs insane, especially in bed in the morning (when the voice seems to be more conducive to it anyway). The slower the creak, the more wiggly the dogs get. It's hilarious. Try it on your dog today!
posted by librarina at 7:19 PM on December 17, 2006

Kurt Cobain does it in the beginning of Lithium, probably to warm up because he gets in his lower vocal range in that song.
posted by spiderskull at 12:45 AM on December 18, 2006

Awesome, I do this all the time! Slowing it down is cool.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:48 AM on December 18, 2006

Kurt Cobain also does it for an impressively long time at the end of moist vagina, and I have always loved that.
posted by churl at 3:04 AM on September 5, 2007

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