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The Affect Effect

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To the Editor:

Thank you to Jason Horowitz for writing this article [“City Girl Squawk: It’s Like So Bad—It. Really. Sucks?”, March 27]. For years, I have been cringing in the presence of what I call “‘Like?’ speech,” which includes not only the ubiquitous “like” but also the accompanying nasal reverb and the making of every sentence into a question.

We spend billions to teach our children how to read and write, but not how to speak. The young have always had their dialect, but the problem today is that many know only the dialect and cannot switch into Standard English when necessary. It’s sad to hear teenagers speak this way, but even sadder to hear twenty- and thirtysomethings with the same affliction.

Whatever its origin, it seems to be widespread in the country. I work in Washington, D.C., and constantly see and hear tourists and their children, and I notice it no less among them than the locals.

Perhaps if we can get Oprah interested in this problem, the masses might take notice? But … I’m, like, jest ing?

Kenneth Nyirady

Vienna, Va.

To the Editor:

Great piece. I’ve been obsessed with this for months, so I’m thrilled to have vindication. I have a few more hypotheses. The creakiness is from either being hung over or wanting to sound it; smokiness makes them sound older, worldly. I think they’re picking up inflections from some gay men—the deliberate lisp/whistle, pauses and emphases say, “I make more money than you, go to the gym way more, and will be making fun of you to my friends later.” There’s also serious, patronizing passive-aggression in the way they linger on the consonants—you hear it a lot at Condé Nast and celebrity mags, but, as you noted, at much smarter places, too. Older (27) supervisor to younger (24): “Um, Kari? This press release … it’ssss—[indrawn breath and tight smile with fake grimace and display of manicure/engagement ring by lips] not great. Sari! Thinks.”

Emily Gordon


To the Editor:

Ohmigod. We have a very similar thing here in D.C.?

Let me stop that right now. It’s not amusing. It’s horrible to hear and horrible to use for my stupid puns. I’m really not sure where this bullshit voice comes from, but it has to stop. I wonder if it’s sociological: Women are being given more power and educational opportunities, but we’re still socialized, in many ways, to be people-pleasing Barbies. This reminds me of how men love to stop me on the street and tell me to “SMILE!” Um, I’m just walking to the bank—I’m not frowning or sticking my tongue out, I swear. So then why does my (neutral) facial expression bother you so? Oh, I see. You want me to fulfill my role as a woman and make you feel better.

So the voice thing could be the same thing: Women are told not to/don’t want to offend anyone, so they move up to a higher register and turn declaratives into questions. Meanwhile, they end up offending everyone with a brain. Ugh. Make it stop! Speak like an adult human, with confidence—or listen to me and my friends make fun of you when we pass you on the street. Y’know, what ever.

Kimberly Klinger

Washington, D.C.

To the Editor:

Thank you for writing the article “City Girl Squawk” and pinpointing what has been driving me nuts for the last five or 10 years (I’m 41). The one thing I think Mr. Horowitz left out of the Affect dialect is the propensity to add “or whatever” to modify a statement. I hear this at the end of far too many sentences, such as “I got into this car accident last night, and I totally smashed in the front of my car, or what ever?” An alternate is to complete a sentence successfully, then add on a non-committal “Anywaaaay … ,” which trails off into nothingness. As a writer of books for middle-grade girls, my ear is very sensitive to this growing phenomenon, but it is startling to find a 30-year-old who hasn’t shed the habit. Or what ever. Anywaaaay ….

Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Nelsonville, N.Y.

Misunderstood M.D.

To the Editor:

Lizzy Ratner’s piece on avian flu was appropriately chilling [“City Health Chief: If Bird Flu Comes, Cover Your Mouth,” March 27], but I need to clarify my quote, which was out of context. My comment about the public-health system being “in shambles” is applicable to the condition of our national-health and public-health systems in general, both of which have been seriously degraded over the last two decades. New Yorkers, however, can take some comfort in knowing that our city’s Department of Health is among the best in the world. Commissioner Frieden has deployed a veritable army of serious experts who have been wrestling with the challenges of preparing for a pandemic for many months. Even the sometimes-maligned State Health Department is working hard on this issue.

But they should know that many of the state’s hospitals are already one IV pole short of financial disaster. And local communities can’t afford to stock up on emergency resources like spare hospital beds, thousands of mechanical ventilators, truckloads of face masks and the ever-elusive Tamiflu (the anti-viral medication) to prepare for a major pandemic, if or when it actually happens. Governor Pataki has proposed $29 million for the state’s new preparedness effort. Ten times that amount would be in the ballpark of what’s actually needed.

Irwin Redlener, M.D.

Associate Dean and Director, National Center for Disaster Preparedness


Fuss Feingold

To the Editor:

Re Chris Lehmann’s article “Russ Never Sleeps” [March 27]: Not only are the good Senator’s grounds not straightforward, they are unfounded. I do not recall an investigation, charges, trial or any other grounds for the censure that Senator Feingold calls for. Of course, to the crazies on the left, it is an unspoken truth that George W. Bush is responsible for everything from the weather to your teenage son’s acne. The façade of a fair debate fell by the wayside years ago. This and most of the Dems’ moves have more to do with the loss of power than what is right for the country.

Steve Rivet

Eagle, Colo.

To the Editor:

Senator Feingold is 100 percent correct in wanting to censure George W. Bush. I am a Democrat and a veteran of the Korean War. I don’t understand why the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are so quiet—as if Mr. Bush and the Republicans have done nothing wrong. Anybody who talked about me the way the Republicans talk about the Democrats in Congress could expect me to come after them the way I went after the enemy in Korea, and I was in four battles.

Thomas Jelf

Lexington, Ky.

To the Editor:

I must truly say I have a profound respect for Senator Feingold’s stance. At least he has taken a stand. The sad thing about this matter is that no one is at least acknowledging his courage. I, for one, do not have any confidence in politicians. There is no real difference between the two major parties; they both have taken us for a ride. And I, for one, did vote back in the 2000 and 2004 elections against my beliefs. Wow, what happened? This is the first time that I have contacted anyone about these important issues. Senator Feingold, you have my support! Please be sincere in your endeavor. I have lost confidence in the powers that be! Prove me wrong!

Ronald Wilson

Harrisburg, Penn.

Mo’ Better News

To the Editor:

Re Sara Vilkomerson’s “Spike’s Pique,” [March 20]: Fantastic article. Spike Lee has been a hero of mine since I saw Do the Right Thing as a 16-year-old. The stories he tells continue to resonate, perhaps as much now as they did in 1989. His voice not only shouts out on behalf of African-American people everywhere, but it also gave confidence to mine as a young Mohawk man. He certainly illuminated many, many things for me, and my education owes a big debt to him. Anyways, I just wanted to pass on my gratitude to Ms. Vilkomerson for writing this piece and bringing a more nuanced depiction to light.

Matthew Garrow

Ottawa, Ontario