When my sister and I were kids, we used to get scolded by our dad for not “EE-NUN-CEE-A-TING” at the dinner table when we talked to each other. Each alone with him, there was little problem communicating but when my sister and I were together we devolved into a rapid-speak littered with tween slang, pitch undulations, laughter, and exclamation. He was utterly lost in our bubblegum blitzkrieg.

His attempts to alter my way of speaking never took hold, and objections to my speech revisited me throughout my childhood and teenage years. By high school my regrettable vernacular was only expanded. Given the standards of public education I was no dunce. In fact, I excelled especially in English, though I was loath to actually use it “properly” beyond the margins of my word document. When I discovered I would be going to the east coast for college, my teachers pained themselves to explain, sometimes in front of the class (in a provincial attempt to embarrass me), “if you keep speaking that way, everyone in New York is going to think you’re stupid.

(Well they, like, totally didn’t– thnx tho.)

To this day, my way of speaking gets attention (and critique you bastards) from friends, colleagues and family. I was once told in complete earnestness by a stranger that I speak like the Wayanes brothers in White Chicks. Ouch. What hurts more is that I have to admit this person was making an astute observation. I talk like a swaggering twelve-year old on uppers, which is why my current read (Jaquline Warwick’s Girl Groups, Girl Culture) is not only an impressive academic work, but a personal vindication.

She discusses the strange and gendered history of doo-wop background vocals and observers that male vocalists tend toward doo-wop dialectics such as:
“Du doop-doop, Du doop-doop”
or “ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooooh-waaaah, ooh-wah”
“dip dip dip dip dooo wah”

These sounds, with harsh consonants and round vowels tend to be sung in the stead of musical instruments, with the lead male vocalist soaring over his background ensemble like a singer before an instrumental band.

Girl groups, however, sing doo-wop nonsense words not in reference to the absent instruments, but as lyrics.

Take for example the Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron:
I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still Da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron Somebody told me his name was Bill Da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron.

Or the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine featuring the “lyric” doo lang, doo lang, doo lang:

The “shoop” of Betty Everett’s It’s In His Kiss is so central to its composition, it has become more commonly known as the “Shoop Shoop Song”.

Why are nonsense words so central to girl-group music? What is the conflict between language and girl culture?

Feminist chorus, I call upon thee! Unleash your wisdom!!!!

Luce Irigaray: “[An] extremely ancient civilization would undoubtedly have a different alphabet, a different language…Woman’s desire would not be expected to speak in the same language as man’s; woman’s desire has doubtless been submerged by the logic that has dominated the West since the time of the Greeks.”

Julia Kristeva:“The position of the feminine in discourse is a very difficult position to specify. As soon as one specifies it, one loses it, seeing that, perhaps, the feminine is precisely what escapes nomination and representation.”

Silvia Bovenschen: “We are in a terrible bind. How do we speak? In what categories do we think? Is even logic a bit of virile trickery?…Are our desires and notions of happiness so far removed from cultural traditions and models?”

Pop Feminist: Sos womyn r not 2 tlk good?

What does all this have to do with girl groups? Warwick explains that “the use of vocables specifically associated with girls’ songs can be identified as a form of girlspeak, a code that signifies while refusing conventional language.”

Amazing. If we allow this, then when the Crystals sing “and when he walked me home, da doo ron ron ron, da doo ron ron”, they allude to that feeling that only a select listenership can presumably “really” understand. Girl groups, therefore, communicate outside of the system of masculine language and rest upon an ideology of “you know what I mean”, leaving men out of the conversation. Yet again, we at Pop Feminist discover that the true revolutionaries often hide in plain sight.

Notice the centrality of talking (in this case on a cell phone) in the promotional poster of the ultimate 90’s “girl movie”

The idea of girl talk is a well understood phenomenon, often mocked or trivialized (surprise!) in pop culture. Clueless, one of the great films of the 20th Century, is one example of this that comes to mind. The girls of Clueless don’t just have a tone of speaking, but a language all their own. You can find a “study guide” to the slang in Clueless here, defining such vexing terms as:
way = very
wiggin’ = irritated, depressed
random = so-so, indifferent, not very interesting
book it = hurry
as if = not likely
and so on.

“[Girl Talk]identifies an aspect of girlness that has disruptive and even subversive potential. If girls have a secret language, then it is possible for them to talk about their experiences in ways that patriarchal authority cannot control.” -Jacqueline Warwick

omg. brill.

Moreover, what characterizes girl talk is often not the invention of new words (although that too), but the co-opt and perversion of words already in the masculine vernacular. Shortening words, (in the instant message age) making acronyms of phrases and the like may make the linguist’s skin crawl, but provokes maniacal delight in the tweenage girl (uh, and me). Girls of the same class demographic share a unspoken common knowledge so profound, they don’t need language to express themselves or perhaps find they language inadequate.

Girls might be way ahead of language, or more profoundly: outside of it. Their “annoying” way of speaking is, in fact, a product of necessity and an act of emotional survival. They must create their own language. It’s a language based on intuition and body language as much as slang terms and so-called nonsense. A girl need only to begin a word or phrase for another girl to pick up on her friend’s meaning exactly and layer her own acronyms and allusions on top. They speak in simultaneity. What is communicated between them is not for the ears of their dads, their teachers, or their boyfriends…and they know it.

Whenever my dad would throw down his silverware declaring “I give up” in the midst of my unintentional 10-year old Barbara Stanwyck impression to an audience of one: a giggling sister, we both knew– if we didn’t acknowledge— that we were marginalizing him, and that it was the only way we could.

grrl talk 4-evr!

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