Friday, March 1, 2013

Does your speaking voice sound like a little girl?

On February 19th Laura Bergells blogged about What no one will tell you: your voice is distracting. She described a presentation where a woman speaker had a high, squeaky “Betty Boop” voice. Her delivery interfered with her message. 

Her post reminded me of a story my father told me when I was twelve, about one of his friends, a distinguished metallurgical engineer who unfortunately had a high-pitched voice for a man (and who I’ll refer to as John Jones).

Once John answered the telephone at dinner time and was asked, “May I speak with Mr. John Jones?” He replied “This is he.” The other party said, “No, I meant MISTER Jones, not Mrs. Jones. This is Western Union calling.”  Exasperated, he proclaimed something stronger than, “Gosh Darnit to Heck, this is Mr. Jones!” Then that person began to sing Happy Birthday to him, because he’d had been sent a singing telegram to celebrate that holiday.

When I was a senior in high school, John visited us. The technical story he told was so fascinating that I stopped noticing his voice pitch.

John told us about selecting materials for the teeth on the bottom of the scoop to a front end loader or bulldozer. Those teeth have to handle both sand and rocks. Sand is abrasive and will rub and wear away material. Repeatedly hitting rocks causes cracking at the surface, and the cracks can grow inward until a tooth breaks off.  An obvious solution to abrasive wear from the sand would be to make the teeth harder, so they would wear out less rapidly.

But if that’s all that is changed, then you just switch failure modes. The impact fatigue cracks were not a problem before because they grew so slowly that they just were worn away. When you just increase the hardness, the cracks can grow faster until the teeth now can break off rather than wear out. So, before you can raise the hardness, you need to change the impact fatigue behavior. 

John’s wife had another vocal problem. She enjoyed singing but was quite tone deaf. One rainy April day, her seven kids were in the basement family room. They were marching around in a circle, pretending that they were riding carved wooden horses on a carousel (or Merry-Go Round). She was providing the music by singing. Finally the youngest daughter could no longer stand it and piped up:

“Mommy, please stop singing. You’re making my horse sick!”

My siblings and I used the euphemism “making my horse sick” many times to friends, and we told them the story behind it.

The image of a little girl came from the Library of Congress. Images of the front end loader and wooden horses came from Wikimedia Commons.

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