We talk about voice in writing, but today I want to say a few words about the speaking voice. The other day when I was shopping I ran into a young sales girl whose voice was very irritating. I have been analyzing her voice ever since. As a writer I wondered how I could describe it on the page, but I also wondered why she talked like that. When I got through the line and handed her my purchases, she didn’t say anything unusual, but her tone was unusual. It was not what we call California up talk, it was a very high-pitched, overly happy voice, the kind you might use on a small toddler. I told her, “It’s OK. you can use your normal voice with me,” and she answered, “What do you mean?”
Well I was stumped. How do you describe a normal voice to someone who doesn’t seem to have one? I wanted to say, ‘dial it down a notch,’ or ‘lose the high pitch’ or talk like an adult’, but those comments all sounded rude in my head. Then I thought it might sound better to say, ‘well aren’t you the happy one today,’ but then again that would have made me sound grumpy. Parroting back with the same phony voice would be mocking her. Before my purchase was completed she paged someone over the P.A. system using the same voice!
I answered her question with, “Are you always this happy?”
“Oh no,” she said in her high-pitched sing songy voice, “But at work we have to be friendly.”
I guess it takes practice to be friendly and happy and sound like an adult.