March 06, 2006

Tough language, woman

Berke Breathed's Opus strip for 2/5/2006 illustrates the two-cultures theory...

Here's the text version. Opus and Steve are sitting at a little round table in a coffee shop, drinking brewed coffee from paper cups.

Opus: Steve, ever notice how women sit in little groups and get all intense and chatty and whispery?
Steve Dallas: They're talking woman.
Opus: Oo. Tough language, woman.
Steve Dallas: I talk woman.
Opus: No way.
Steve Dallas: Absolutely.
Opus: You just know a few nouns.
Steve Dallas: I talk perfect woman.
Opus: Betcha couldn't pass as a native.
Steve Dallas: [taking out a bill] Five bucks.
Opus: [putting his bill on the table] Five bucks.
Steve Dallas: [at the next table, where three women are sipping frappuccino-like drinks] Hi ladies. I'm feeling unfulfilled, my mother's a controlling shrew and my butt's growing wider than Rhode Island. You too?
Opus: [to Steve, who is back in his chair with one frappuccino poured over his head, another in his face, and the third one stuck down the front of his pants] That was pidgin woman.

For the corresponding image in current American popular culture of women's stereotype of the language of men, we can turn to a passage in Prairie Home Companion's "Guy Noir" sketch for 2/18/2006. Guy has been hired to help judge the Ausgesprechen Pride of Milwaukee Music Contest. Garrison Keillor is playing Guy Noir; Tim Russell plays Mr. Olson, the president of the Ausgesprechen Brewing Company; Sue Scott plays Miss Hattendorf, the president of his competitor, Blanche Beer. [You can listen to the whole thing here: Miss Hattendorf's section starts at about 8:08, to which this link should take you directly; and the fragment below start about here.]

Miss Hattendorf: ... look at his new ad campaign —"Ausgesprechen Beer. Not just for breakfast any more." Huh? Boy oh boy. Huh?
Mr. Olson: It's the most popular beer in Milwaukee.
Miss Hattendorf: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Popular among men with low IQs. His beer contains testosterone.
Mr. Olson: It does not.
Miss Hattendorf: Yes it does. They lace it with male hormones, so after you've had two or three cans of Ausgesprechen, even if you're a, you know, graduate student in quantum field theory, well you stand by the bar and you go [imitates male vocal tract by lowering larynx and loosening lower face] "hi! hey! [etc.]"

Note that the script on the Prairie Home Companion site refers to Miss Scott's imitation of typical men's speech as "male honking".

[The idea that (modern American) men and women come from different cultures is well established in the public mind. Different versions of this idea have been commonplace for hundreds of years, though some of the particular characteristics stereotypically associated with the male and female approaches to things have changed over time. There's enough social separation of the sexes to make these ideas plausible, quite apart from any biological effects, but it seems to be very hard to separate truth from stereotype in areas with as much emotional resonance as this one.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 6, 2006 07:36 AM