Carrie Gillon: Hi and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about the linguistic discrimination.
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa.
Carrie Gillon: and I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: I hear that one of the dictionaries already has a word of the year?
Carrie Gillon: Yes. I think it’s actually the second one, but I don’t know what the other dictionary was. It was probably an Australian dictionary. So at least with the Merriam-Webster –
Megan Figueroa: yes. The ol’ MW.
Carrie Gillon: The word of the year is “vaccine”.
Megan Figueroa: Okay. Yes. I was ready to be angry. I don’t know how I was going to be angry at it or whatever the word was, but that makes sense.
Carrie Gillon: It makes total sense.
Megan Figueroa: It feels good.
Carrie Gillon: It feels good. It feels right. It’s not a new word, but again, it doesn’t have to be, it just has to be newly relevant, which it definitely was this year.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Yes. Because unless you were in the trials, most people got it in 2021. Right?
Carrie Gillon: Right. So, so some healthcare workers and some very old people, at least in Canada, got it in December. But the vast majority of Canadians and Americans got it this year.
Megan Figueroa: Wow. Yeah, I got mine in January. So before a lot of people.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. And you’re boosted now.
Megan Figueroa: I am boosted.
Carrie Gillon: So you want to see what the reasoning that they gave?
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Okay. So they saw a 601% increase in lookups last year over last.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: So that’s a six times more. Then it had continual spikes of attention throughout the year. And also it was about much more than medicine in 2021, which is absolutely true.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, I just got chills. That, I mean, I think ever since what’s her name?
Carrie Gillon: Oh, I thought you were gonna say Wakefield.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, what is that?
Carrie Gillon: Okay, so Dr. Wakefield, although I don’t know if I should call him doctor anymore, I think his license has been revoked. But he was a doctor in the UK who did that big study in the early 2000s or late 90s and yeah Jenna McCarthy et al., used that study kind of to spread the anti-vax stuff.
Megan Figueroa: Okay. So I know about this study. I didn’t know Wakefield. Okay. So yeah, Wakefield started it, if Jenny McCarthy took it and ran with it.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. He’s patient zero for this particular brand of anti-vax bullshit.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Huh. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And the reason why he did this study- so basically his study, for people who don’t know, probably most people do, but it supposedly showed a correlation between getting vaccinated and developing autism. And setting that aside, which is already like, there’s so many problems in that. But setting that aside, the reason why he did this study is because he had his own vaccine that he wanted to promote.
Megan Figueroa: Oh my God. As if it was the one that wouldn’t quote unquote, cause autism, hohhh.
Carrie Gillon: He also just lied with the data. Like there’s also all sorts of problems with the data, but yeah, I think he’s had his license taken away as a result of the fraud of that.
Megan Figueroa: Wow. I think it’s true though Merriam Webster says that it is of particular import this year.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. Because it’s a new one, because it affects everybody. Right? So the HPV vaccine, which came out a few years ago, there’s a lot of anti-vax bullshit floating around with that one.
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Carrie Gillon: But because it was only affecting, at the time, girls, it just didn’t quite reach the fever pitch that this one has.
Megan Figueroa: Right. But now grown ass white men have to, you know, get this vaccine and it’s like, “no, if I don’t want to, I don’t want to.”
Carrie Gillon: Which technically you don’t have to. It’s still not mandated. I mean, you do for some jobs-
Megan Figueroa: like the city of Tucson, for example.
Carrie Gillon: Right. But not, you don’t have to for just existing. You can just exist and not be vaccinated. Anyway. It’s terrifying.
Megan Figueroa: And all of this conversation we’re having right now underscores how the word “vaccine” is a great choice for word of the year.
Carrie Gillon: Yes. It’s a really good choice, yeah. Kudos.
Megan Figueroa: I know I’ve never been content about a word of the year. Yeah. Right on. I was going to ask you what you would choose, but now I’m like, would you choose “vaccine”? Cause I feel like I would.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I feel like I would too. I don’t know what’s going to happen at the American Dialect Society- don’t know what they’re going to choose. I’m assuming this will be on the list and then I’m going to guess that they’re not going to choose it cause a different dictionary did. That’s usually what happens. Oh, so I found out the other one. So the Macquarrie dictionary, which I’m pretty sure is an Australian dictionary. Yes. Their word of the year is- you’re going to not know this word, I bet. “Stroll out.”
Megan Figueroa: Nope. Nope. Let me guess. Is it about babies that are stepping out of line?
Carrie Gillon: Nope. It’s about vaccine-
Megan Figueroa: how it rolls out?
Carrie Gillon: Right. It’s the blend of “stroll” and “rollout”. In Australia there was a very slow roll out at first of the vaccines.
Megan Figueroa: Oh.
Carrie Gillon: And they were, they were upset because Australia hadn’t bought enough at first. And you know, every country had a different strategy and did different things. And at the time, Australia had very few cases. And they weren’t as worried about getting vaccinated. They were like, “oh, we can what we can postpone.” And then Delta hit and then they needed them.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. That’s funny.
Carrie Gillon: I like it.
Megan Figueroa: It probably means more to Australians. Or I know it does. Not probably.
Carrie Gillon: It really felt kind of like a stroll out in Canada too. Like we felt like we’re so far behind the United States, but then when you compared us to like the world as a whole, we were still kind of on the early side, but it still felt like very slow at first. I was just like, “are we going to get the vaccines?” Hmm. I think my first one was in April and my second one was in July. It felt kind of late.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Anyway, so I’m looking forward to find out what the word of the year-
Megan Figueroa: also like euphemism of the year or some of these other ones. Because they’re not coming to mind now, but I’m sure there are some-
Carrie Gillon: I can’t think of any right now either, but I’m not that good at coming up with them.
Megan Figueroa: Right. And it’s gotta be something related to a pandemic.
Carrie Gillon: For sure. There’s going to be so many, like last year had a lot of words related to the pandemic. I think this year will be similar. There’ll be a similar number because in some ways it’s almost worse than it was last year. Like the, the cases are not quite as bad in most places, but omicron is like-
Megan Figueroa: right.
Carrie Gillon: It’s kind of scary. And so first they were saying, “well, all the cases are mild in South Africa or in Southern Africa with omicron. Why are you guys worried?” And I’m like, okay, I don’t know. I’m going to hold off on being scared about this because maybe it is mild. That’s fine.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: Now toddlers are getting it. And they’re being hospitalized. So I’m like, Hmm.
Megan Figueroa: Does omicron mean anything? Is it a mashup of something?
Carrie Gillon: It’s not a mashup. It’s a Greek letter and yes, it does have a meaning. Your mind is going to be blown: omicron, omega. Little o, big O. I read it on Twitter a week or so ago. A couple of days after it was named. Maybe even the second day after, someone tweeted that and I was like, “are you kidding me? How did I never know that omega was big O?”
Megan Figueroa: yeah, mega.
Carrie Gillon: I love it. I love it so much. But also, why do you have two O’s in your alphabet, Greek?
Megan Figueroa: I know, I know. Yeah. Big O and little o what is happening there. I don’t know.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know. I don’t know Greek.
Megan Figueroa: No, I need you to make up an answer right now so I walk away from this feeling good. Wow.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Oh, Delta. I bet you Delta will be like a word of the year candidate.
Megan Figueroa: Yes.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, maybe omicron as well.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Omicron might be – I think there’s a category for like actual new.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And also like, you know, going to be important later. Yeah. Most likely to succeed?
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Most likely to succeed. I wonder if anti-vaxxer is going to be something that’s newly relevant.
Carrie Gillon: I mean, it does seem to be newly relevant. I mean, it’s always been there, but now it’s seems more. It also seems to have a different flavor now. So remember when people thought that anti-vaxxers were on the left?
Megan Figueroa: Because of like wellness and ” I want my body to be natural” kind of thing.
Carrie Gillon: And there was, there always has been that, but it was also on the right. And I would always tell people it’s actually slightly to the right. Like there are more people on the right who are anti-vax than on the left.
Megan Figueroa: Right.
Carrie Gillon: At least in the states. And yeah, now I feel like I’m being really proven right. Like, sure. There are still some people on the left who aren’t getting this vaccine, but they’re being very quiet.
Megan Figueroa: Cause it’s like they’re ashamed. But the ones on the right are not ashamed. Really truly embodying the “anti” of it all.
Carrie Gillon: Right. They’re very loud about it, but also, I think it just fits in with their political views better.
Megan Figueroa: Right, like individualism. “I don’t need to care about my community and do this thing that actually helps everyone. And not just myself.”
Carrie Gillon: “The government’s trying to control me, the government’s evil.”
Megan Figueroa: “What are they inserting into my body, really?”
Carrie Gillon: Although they’re also now anti-Big Pharma, which used to be the people on the left, anti-Big Pharma. That’s the reason why you don’t want to get vaccinated by Big Pharma. They’re huge corporations. And they don’t have your best interests in mind, which is kind of true. But vaccinations are a net good.
Megan Figueroa: Right. Yes.
Carrie Gillon: And then on the right, the people on the right, they were anti-government. They were anti-“governments trying to control me. They’re trying to now put a chip in me” and all this stuff. But what’s interesting is that these two things have now merged on the right. They’re anti-Big Pharma and anti-government, which is-
Megan Figueroa: Interesting
Carrie Gillon: What’s going on there?
Megan Figueroa: Which is like a really good argument for “anti-vaxxer” to be a word of like a new, newly relevant given the-
Carrie Gillon: 100 percent.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. So just in case anyone at the American Dialect Society’s listening: there you go. You’re welcome.
Carrie Gillon: There’s two things to talk about: the actual episode and then our bonus episode, but they’re basically the same thing.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. We have Mara Fucking Wilson. She so generously allowed me to call her that, when I introduced her.
Carrie Gillon: In fact, she seemed to encourage it.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Which, you know, delighted me even more. And I was super delighted that day. We have video.
Carrie Gillon: We have video. We’ve never done this before, but what we’re going to do is have the audio, what you’re listening to right now, it’s a somewhat truncated version, not totally truncated, but you know, just somewhat truncated. And then the video version, which will be on our Patreon, will be untruncated and you can watch us goofing off and you can see how the sausage is made.
Megan Figueroa: Exactly. Exactly. And Mara gave us her permission.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. So yeah, so if you want to watch this one you can become a patron of ours, http://www.patreon.com/vocalfriespod. We have bonuses at the $5 a month level or the $15 a month level, and stickers and all bonus episodes, all access to all of the ones in the past. And we’re at like 40 something, 46, something like that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: And at. the$15 a month level, if you stay for three months, you get a mug.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. And it’s cute. It’s the only way you can get this specific mug of the Vocal Fry logo. Yeah. Yay.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. We’re very excited. This was a fun episode. We talk about well, all kinds of things-
Megan Figueroa: so many things that we hope you enjoy. It’s really quite- something I’ve been teasing on the internet for-
Carrie Gillon: for a while. Finally got here.
Megan Figueroa: We have Mara fucking Wilson, who is a writer, storyteller, voiceover actor, mental health activist, and is very good at Twitter. Just really good at it. You might know her as the voice of the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home from Welcome to Night Vale, or perhaps you’re my age and you know her as Mathilda from your favorite childhood movie Mathilda, or maybe you know her as Robin Williams’s youngest child in Mrs. Doubtfire. She is the author of Where Am I Now: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame, and we are so delighted to have her with us today.
Mara Wilson: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. This is, this is something that I like to talk about a lot, so I’m glad to be here.
Carrie Gillon: Great.
Megan Figueroa: Thank you so much.
Carrie Gillon: You know, we’d love to talking about it too, so-
Megan Figueroa: I feel like there’s a special connection between people who really are into words and language and how it impacts us all even if we’re not thinking about it.
Mara Wilson: One of my brothers is a speech pathologist and my sister, yeah. So, that is something that that like when his children were toddlers, he would say things just like, they’re able to do velar trills now. And they’re able to do- actually velar trills are probably a little hard, but they’re able to do alveolar trills now and they’re able to do, yeah. And he would speak in this, bilabial fricatives and things like that. And I know this stuff from studying International Phonetic Alphabet and accents in college.
Megan Figueroa: That makes sense. Yeah, you just gave me chills saying those words. We never have had a guest that isn’t a linguist or, you know, specifically like-
Mara Wilson: I’m not a linguist, but my sister knows a lot about linguistics and I’ve always wanted to take a linguistics course because I really like languages. And I felt like that was kind of like a cheat to understanding them and yeah, and voice and language, I think is awesome. And I love IPA. I love the International Phonetic Alphabet so much. I’m even in a Facebook group called Yet Another Problem That Could Have Been Solved With IPA.
Carrie Gillon: Oh my God.
Megan Figueroa: That’s amazing. So, when you hear IPA, the first thing you think of is the alphabet and not the beer?
Mara Wilson: Yeah, I mean, I was never into the beer. I don’t drink anymore, but when I was, I did not like IPAs. So, probably when I lived, when I had like a lot of friends who lived in Brooklyn and drank Brooklyn IPAs, I probably did. But IPA for me is the IPA, it makes everything so much easier.
Carrie Gillon: We have heart eyes on our faces.
Megan Figueroa: I know. I mean, this is not something that’s ever come up in any of your interviews before.
Mara Wilson: It really hasn’t but, but yeah, let’s talk about schwas, baby.
Megan Figueroa: Oh, wait Carrie, please tell her about your sweater.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, my goodness. Okay. So, a long time ago now, my dad is a knitter. My mum taught him how, but he’s really the knitter of the family. And I am now too, but he knit me a sweater back in my early twenties. That was a “schweater” so it was made of schwas, and it also had Hilfiger logo, except that it was Noam Chomsky instead.
Mara Wilson: Oh my gosh. That is amazing. Wow. That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic.
I remember our voice and speech teacher saying “it’s all right to schwa.”
Carrie Gillon: It is a very useful sound.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I got to say, we have had the dialect coach on our show before, and I gained this huge appreciation for actors after that. I think that people who aren’t actors are very critical of people with quote unquote bad accents in shows, like “that’s not how you sound Southern” or whatever, but then talking to him and realizing how fucking hard it is-
Mara Wilson: I sort of love when an accent slips a little bit, because I love being like- you can put in such a wonderful performance, but you’re still human. That I kind of love when there’s a tiny bit of an accent slip. A lot of times we’ll see it in a pilot or a season one. And then by season two or season three, they’d be like, we picked up on it. You’re not saying tissue [tisu] anymore. You’re saying tissue [tishue]. You’re not saying this anymore. You gotta work those o’s, you gotta do that.
Carrie Gillon: Speaking of that, I read a really old Facebook post of mine where I’d been rewatching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure because it was filmed in Tempe.
Mara Wilson: Was it? That explains a lot.
Carrie Gillon: The first one was, maybe the second. The third one wasn’t but anyway, I noticed that Keanu slipped in a sorry [sohri].
Mara Wilson: Sohries are- I remember Elliot Page in in Juno saying herbs [hrbz] and me being like “Canadian spotted!”
Carrie Gillon: I think that’s an Eastern Canadian thing. I definitely do not say that.
Mara Wilson: Because I’ve heard that before. And I have a Canadian sister-in-law and so there’s like [hrbz] and, and “mum” and things like that, like little things will slip in. And it’s also really funny because, you know, my sibling who is married to them, now they’ve gotten some Canadianisms in there, which is really funny. Which is, yeah, it’s really funny to hear, but yeah, but [hrbz], I’ve definitely heard, which I think is a Britishism. So he has a line, “what is it with you yuppies and your [rbz]?” And he said [hrbz] and I was like, “I see you.”
Megan Figueroa: Wait, wait, wait. I’m really embarrassed right now. But Keanu is Canadian?
Carrie Gillon: I think he grew up a part of the time in Canada and part of the time elsewhere.
Mara Wilson: Hawaii, I think. Yeah. Something like- yeah, he was kind of all over the place. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: So it’s actually kind of surprising that he had [sohri], must’ve been him freshly moved from Canada.
Mara Wilson: Some people in Midwest say [sohri]. I worked for a woman from Wisconsin and she said [sorhi].
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know if you are into TikTok at all, but the trans handyma’am on there is very Wisconsin. She says [sohri].
Mara Wilson: I love Wisconsin. I went to a boarding school for the visual performing arts. And we had two teachers there who basically headed up the theater department and they were both from Wisconsin and their names were Bonnie and Todd and they would teach us. And Bonnie was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. And we sometimes used to try to talk like them just to kind of tease them. And they didn’t seem to notice. And Bonnie taught theater history and you will never forget what the word “tragedy” means when it has been taught to you by somebody with a Wisconsin accent. Tragedy literally means “ode to a goat.” It does. I mean, it’s “goat song.” It means “goat song” and because it’s for Dionysus and Dionysus is the goat and all that. That’s what “tragedy” means, “ode to a goat.” You don’t forget that.
Carrie Gillon: Now I’ll never forget.
Let’s talk about voices since that’s really why we went to have you on. What kind of messaging is there about women’s voices in Hollywood and how has it been policed in the industry?
Mara Wilson: You know, it’s interesting. I think that a lot of the message that we got for a very long time is there is a very easy way to make yourself sound unintelligent. And that is vocal fry and upspeak. And essentially speaking the way that I grew up speaking, because I am a veritable Valley Girl. I’m from Burbank, California, East Valley, San Fernando Valley. Here we would call it the San Fernando Valley. We use extraneous thes and these, but especially for the freeways. It’s the five, it’s not five. I think it’s because out here it’s because it used to be like the Hollywood Freeway, the Ventura Freeway. And then they changed it to the numbers. So now it’s the 5, the 1-10, the 101. So that’s why we do that.
I am a Valley Girl and that is the way that I talked and I always had a really low voice growing up and I still have a pretty low voice. And when I was 11 or 12, my voice did change significantly. And I spoke in a very low register for a very long time. Like I was an 11-year-old who sounded like Allison Janney. Yeah, it was, it was pretty great.
And then when I got to college, I never took any voice and speech classes in high school, even though I really needed a few, but it was because they were like, “well, you already have a very resonant voice and you can’t dance or move, at all.” Which was to be expected because I spent a lot of my life on camera and camera acting is, you know, here up. So I never knew what to do with my hands. I never knew what to do with my feet. I was always fidgeting. So they put me in a lot of movement classes, so I could become more comfortable in my body. But the movement classes were at the same time as voice and speech. So it was only when I got to college that I actually took a voice and speech class. And I remember saying, “I dunno, I guess they thought that my voice was normal. I guess they thought my voice was clear enough.” And I saw my voice teacher holding back something, trying not to-
I think in Hollywood, it is kind of hard. And I think that when I moved there, I consciously tried to change the way that I talked. I tried to sound more like a New Yorker and I find myself doing this and it’s really embarrassing that I do this, but I have a people pleasing streak. And so when I go to different places, I try to speak the way that they speak. I don’t imitate their accents or their dialects, but I try to pick up on phrases that they use. And I try to do these things. The only place I don’t do that is in, in England because they are very, very touchy about that. They’re very, very touchy about you picking up their accents. They, they will, they know that you’re American and they can smell it from a mile away and they hate that. And they’ll be like, “actually, that’s not actually, you’re doing more of a Cheshire accent.” And I’ve had issues there, but even there, like after two weeks, I said “cheers” to my friend when she helped me move my suitcase. And I tried to at least do that. I want to blend in. I very consciously tried to do that in New York. And I thought about it later. And I was like, “why did I do that?” And I was like, “well, because I associated California with the film industry,” which I was breaking away from and very frustrated with. And because people thought I was dumb. And if I told them I was an actor, and I sounded like a Valley Girl, they were going to think I was stupid and I didn’t want to be seen as stupid. I really didn’t want to be seen as that. So I tried very, very hard to change the way that I talked. And, and I think that that dialect, that Valley Girl dialect, is sort of shorthand for being stupid and being shallow.
It’s interesting, because I think that we had kind of a pushback in that eventually. If you watch Legally Blonde or you watch Clueless, these girls, they are not stupid. They are very hard workers. They maybe haven’t focused on these things all their lives. They were focusing on organizing their closets instead of reading Proust and Nietzsche or whatever. But they weren’t encouraged to do that, but they are very good at what they do. They are very capable. They are very thoughtful. And I think that it, it is used as sort of a shorthand.
And I could go on and on and on. And I probably will, at some point do something about the Valley Girl dialect and what it means to me and how it’s actually it’s associated with areas that it really shouldn’t be associated. And there’s a lot of things that we don’t take into account about class and race and the history of California. When you do that, I think that actually a lot of California speak has had a lot of Chicano influence on it, on the California English dialect, that we don’t acknowledge. And I think that that’s- race and class and gender all come into play with it. And so it’s a big, complicated thing.
And I think the way that I talk is also influenced by my own, I guess, neurodivergence or whatever, my own ADHD, my own OCD, because I’m often distracted by my own thoughts. And I’ve noticed that my family does this. My family does this too. A lot of people in my family do. And I think I’m probably the only one with like diagnosed ADHD and stuff. But I noticed that’s what we’ll do. We’ll be talking to you really straight and we’ll be really focused about some and then something will kind of catch our eye. And for those of you just listening, I’m looking off to the side and I’m looking all around. And I might say things that I might just kind of keep talking. Then I snap back. I snap back to it. And I do that a lot, so much so that one of my friends who’s also like non-neurotypical asked me, they were like, “do you have a speech impediment?” And I was like, “I don’t think that I do, but I might actually,” I don’t know if that technically counts as that.
When I was in college, they would say there was a big sign with the word “like” on it. And there was a circle and a line through it. They said, “say what you mean.” And the thing is, I understand when I’m giving a speech, when I’m doing a show, I don’t want to use the word “like.” I know that I use the words “I mean” and “you know” to do these things to say, I use “well” a lot too, a lot of filler words, but I think that a lot of that for me, and I think this is something very feminine. And I think that if you’re a feminine person, you do these things a lot. You use those things to soften or to connect with another person. So when I say, “you know,” I’m checking in with you, I’m saying, “you know,” and if they nod, they nod, if they don’t, I’ll try to explain it more. And so I think that I did that maybe consciously at one point, but now it’s become kind of an unconscious thing. And if I say “well,” that’s softening it a little bit. If I say “like,” I can’t say “it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” That’s, that’s pretty dramatic. I say “it’s like the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” You know, that’s, that’s hyperbole if I say, or if you say “it’s terrible,” but that’s, “that’s like terrible” it means “surprisingly terrible” or “that’s kind of terrible” or “that’s actually pretty terrible.” Yeah, it’s a different kind of thing. I do think that it softens things. I do think that it changes things and I do think it is underappreciated in everyday speech. I mean, I completely understand if somebody is giving a speech. If somebody is in an interview, you do want them to be as clear as possible. But for me, I think that so much of this is about socializing. So much of the way that girls speak is about socializing. And I think that it’s kind of- I think that, I don’t know, I think that a lot of Hollywood doesn’t like, and a lot of people, I think, don’t like femininity.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah.
Mara Wilson: They associate it with weakness and they associate it with stupidity.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. When I was younger, I tried to be like less feminine on purpose.
Mara Wilson: Same. Now I’m just like, you know what? I like tea parties. I like dressing up. I like cats. I like babies. I like pink. I like everything that’s feminine. I like lipstick. I like all kinds of feminine stuff. Don’t really like jewelry, but that’s because I’m allergic to it. And I don’t necessarily like things that are- I think they also associate femininity with materialism. And I wouldn’t say I’m a very materialistic person. I’m not wild about shopping or things like that. But I, I like being one of the girls. That’s definitely- a lot of my friends are female or feminine.
And I don’t feel like these are bad things. I think that these are neutral things and I think that just as I think a lot of masculine things are negative too, there’s negative things that with, with like proving masculinity and taking to it extremes of course. But I feel like these are neutral things and they’re shown to be negative.
Megan Figueroa: Oh yeah. I have to use Microsoft Outlook for email for work and they have this new thing where basically everything I type it puts blue dots underneath it, and then you click it and it says “here’s more concise language.” And it removes my “just,” it always removes the “just,” it always removes some of my adverbs.
Carrie Gillon: It’s weird because in an email, I feel like softening is actually really important because otherwise-
Mara Wilson: I think so too, you need to be very careful with your exclamation points, with your “please,” with your “if it’s not too big a deal.” You have to soften an email. And that’s the thing too, is that there’s also a dialect that we use on the internet, which is based on spoken speech. It’s not based on written speech. And so that is a whole other thing. And I do think if you were speaking out loud, a lot of emails are basically what they would be if you were speaking out loud. You would say, “just shoot it over to me when you can” or “just do this, ” or “can we please just maybe like try this.” That’s the way that it would be.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, and then it makes me wonder, okay. So you’re telling me to be more concise or whatever, or the workplace I’m supposed to get rid of my “justs” or “likes.” What’s wrong with everyone who’s considered masculine or whatever, to be more like me, like what is the problem with softening things, maybe that’s a better way to connect with people.
Mara Wilson: That’s interesting to me too, because there’s so many different ways of solving. There’s a very, there’s the British “with all due respect, sir.” Which, which means “I think that you’re out of your mind.” A lot of my Californian friends – and this happened to me in Australia too, because Australia and Southern California, at least the parts of Australia that I’ve been to and Southern California seems to have very similar cultures- People don’t like that when I don’t hear them, I say, “what did you say?” They say, that’s too direct. But I said, if I say, “pardon,” I say, if I say, “I’m sorry,” they don’t know why I’m saying “I’m sorry.” If I say “what”, they might not know if I didn’t hear them or if I’m reacting to what they said. I used to just go “Hmm?” But my dad is hearing impaired in one ear and he couldn’t hear me say that. So now I just say, “what did you say?” And I think that I’m being – but people say that I say it too fiercely and it scares them a little bit. Like, “what did you say?” Like I’m interrogating them and I’m like, “oh no, I’m sorry.” I’m just trying to be- and it’s funny because I also used to say, “excuse me,” but then I was in my friend’s wedding. The groom and all of the groomsmen were English. And “excuse me” I guess means that you just farted. And so I didn’t want them thinking that I had just passed gas all the time. So I was like okay. Yeah, maybe I should change that.
Megan Figueroa: Speaking of Valley Girl, have you seen the Bling Ring?
Mara Wilson: I haven’t. I know of it, but I haven’t seen it. That is not the LA that I grew up in. The LA that I grew up in is very different. The LA that I grew up in was, was, I don’t know, it was very different. I can get into it later, but what were you going to say about it?
Carrie Gillon: She’s obsessed with one of the actresses in it. That’s what it is.
Megan Figueroa: With love. With love. Emma Watson’s attempt to do Californian English seems to me very over-exaggerated and almost like veering towards like baby talk, as if that’s like what California English is. Some people for somebody to have the idea that the baby talk thing is Californian, or I dunno if it’s because of the whole intelligence thing, I’m thinking that it doesn’t make you sound smart.
Mara Wilson: That’s, that’s really interesting. I’ve seen clips of her in it and yeah, and I don’t want to criticize her performance either, but while I was watching it, I did feel I was like, “something feels a little off and I can’t quite put my finger on it” when they were all talking, but it’s really hard. It’s a very specific, it’s one of these kinds of things there where it seems a lot easier than it actually is.
I would say a lot of Southern dialects seem a lot more easy than they are. I met somebody in, I guess I spent a lot of time in the UK in the past few years, but I met with a friend and she was wearing cowboy boots and I was like, “oh, nice boots.” And she’s like, “thanks. I was just listening to Hadestown. And I like felt kind of like, I should, you know, I wanted to be kind of Southern,” but the thing about Hadestown is it’s a musical where- well, first of all, it’s set, you know, in a place where you literally have Hades, so it’s not exactly there, but there is a Southern influence in it, but it’s an Eastern Southern influence. It’s a Louisiana influence. That’s what it is. So all the music in it is jazz. It’s Southeast and people in the Southeast don’t wear cowboy boots. They wear maybe sharkskin or snakeskin shoes maybe. And so I remember thinking it’s so completely different. If you wear cowboy boots, you’re in Texas or actually Arizona, where I got my cowboy boots. I love my cowboy boots. I wear them all the time. They’re my most comfortable shoes, but I remember thinking like, “oh yeah.” I mean, they get annoyed with us when we don’t know the difference here, but they don’t know the difference between dialects in Oklahoma and Michigan, and they’re not going to know that. I think that it’s very easy to do sort of broadly.
Who is it? There’s an actor I like, Alexander Skarsgard, anytime he does an American accent, he slips into Southern. And I saw a movie that he was in based on a book that I’d read and the character in it, he made kind of Southern. But I know that from reading the book, the character was actually, it was based on a real person and that real person was from, I think, Long Island. They would’ve had a totally different, they would’ve sounded more like this, you know, they probably would’ve sounded a little bit more like this. Had a little bit, you know, maybe a little bit more nasal. They wouldn’t have sounded the way that he was speaking.
Carrie Gillon: It’s hard to imagine him with a Long Island accent actually, now that you mention it.
Mara Wilson: And actually it’s funny. Cause in Australia, I’ve never gotten this anywhere else, but in Australia they were like “your accent’s kind of sexy.” And I was like, “really? I don’t think our accents are sexy at all.” And like the woman that was taking us around, she was like, “oh yeah,” she was like, “maybe it’s just because of past experiences. But I think some are very sexy.” She goes, “I think Long Island accents are sexy.” And I was like “Long Island? You think that is sexy, Long Island?”
Carrie Gillon: It’s not really coded as sexy over here.
Mara Wilson: It’s not, although I did realize the other day, I watched something where there was a woman from New Jersey and I was like, “oh no, I have a thing for New Jersey people.” I’ve dated a lot of people from New Jersey. I don’t know why. My first serious relationship was with someone from New Jersey. And also, I grew up with Danny DeVito as basically a surrogate uncle. So I have a soft spot for New Jersey.
Carrie Gillon: Aw, Danny DeVito.
Megan Figueroa: I know.
Mara Wilson: He’s lovely.
Megan Figueroa: What a sweetheart.
I found an article about you from March this year: The List. Why You Never See Mara Wilson In Movies anymore. But this stuck out to me, it says “Wilson’s charming smirk and sweet voice always had the audience on her side.” Do you feel that way about your voice at that age? And if so, when do you feel like you switched to like people not thinking it’s silly voice anymore?
Mara Wilson: I think that people didn’t like my voice when I was young, because I had a lisp. And I was called out for that a lot. They said that it was really annoying and I even had people say, “did you put that on? Did you put that lisp on?” No, I was five. Of course I didn’t. And I was working through it. And I had people saying, “she lisped her way through this movie and she’s doing the same thing here.” And later on, I called out the writer who did this and she apologized to me and then I ran into her at an event and she apologized me face to face. So we’re cool now. And she’s like, “I was totally in the wrong, I shouldn’t have done that. You’re absolutely right.” So I kind of grew out of my lisp. I think sort of naturally. I remember going to speech therapy classes at school and they were just like, “oh no, you don’t really have it any more.” They carried on a conversation with me and they listened to me closely and then they sent me back to class. So it wasn’t that big of a deal. So people didn’t like that.
I read a book by some casting directors that I worked with a lot who told me that they always really liked my voice. Cause they’d liked that it was a little husky for a kid’s.
And I also found out later on that the woman who plays Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, actually used my voice for a character on the Simpsons as inspiration. I had a lot of loose teeth and sometimes that would make me have kind of a lisp or something. And so she used my voice to create the voice of the character on the Simpsons. And I think I know which character it is. It’s not a big character. There’s an episode where Moe who runs the bar starts up this like TGIFriday’s kind of a restaurant and there’s a little girl there who says “the soda is too cold. It makes my teeth hurt.” And I think that’s probably what she used it for, but I think that’s that the highest praise that I can imagine. I think that’s one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.
I don’t know, but I definitely feel like my voice definitely changed as I got older and I didn’t have as much of a range anymore. I also used to sing when I was a kid and I was a pretty good singer. I never really sang in public. I always wanted to, and I took voice lessons and for a kid I wasn’t bad, but then yeah, as I got older, I kind of had to learn to sing again. And for a while, I was just like, “no, I’m a contralto, so I only have this range.” And I think a lot of that was also soprano seems too prissy for me. So I definitely, as Carrie was saying, I definitely had the sort of rejection of anything feminine.
I feel like I also had that sort of rejection of me from a lot of people who told me they loved Matilda. Two years later, in middle school, they would tell me that they thought it sucked. And I think that that’s just sort of a thing that happens, especially when you’re the new girl, when you’re an afab growing up, it’s sort of like how kids throw away their Barbie dolls. And destroy their Barbie dolls. And I think that I was kind of seen as that. I was seen as something childish, especially since I was only in kids movies. So at my school- and I grew up in Burbank, California, where we have NBC Studios and Warner Brothers lot in our backyards. I was seen as doing something that wasn’t as cool while the kids who were in Gap commercials were seen as the cool ones.
Yeah. So I got bullied for being, I got bullied for being in kid’s movies, which was very strange. And there was, I think, sort of a rejection of that. And I don’t think that my rejection from Hollywood had a lot to do with my voice. I consider my voice one of my best features. I love my voice. I’ve always really liked my voice. I do think that my speech patterns can be a little all over the place, but I’ve always really liked my voice and I’ve done a lot to make sure that I can keep it and I can do a lot with it in voiceover.
I think it was more, I was at an awkward age, and I didn’t go through that as easily. Speaking of Emma Watson, I didn’t look like her. You know, she’s a literal Chanel model and I wasn’t going to grow up to be a model. I just wasn’t. And it was better for me to sort of bow out and go back into doing theater and go back into doing things that I really wanted to do, like writing and studying those things. It was better for me to be doing those things. So I think actually my voice carried me through.
In fact, I still was doing voiceover pretty much. I never stopped being a voice over actress. I never stopped. I was still doing it a little bit in school projects and things like that. People would be like, “Mara, can you narrate this?” I still was doing a lot of stuff with my voice, my whole childhood, my whole adolescence and into adulthood. So I got back into voiceover when I was like right out of college, a couple years out of college. And basically what happened is I was meeting my book agent and she said, “we have a voiceover department here,” and I walked across and I introduced myself and I talked a little bit and I said, “I’m very good at doing voiceover”. And I don’t give myself credit for a lot, so I don’t want to sound egotistical here, but I do think- I don’t actually think that I’m like a genius at recording. I’m not like Tara Strong or like people like that who are. But I do like doing like audio books and I do like doing those kinds of things. I don’t have a lot of character voices that I can do. I’m not Nancy Cartwright.
Carrie Gillon: Who is?
Mara Wilson: Exactly, exactly. It’s all these voiceover actors, Mark Hamill. They’re extremely, extremely talented. And I don’t have that kind of voice, I don’t think, but I went there and he was like, “yeah, you have a good announcer voice. We can do something with this.” And I started going out on auditions and you have probably heard my voice in a commercial or a radio commercial at some point, possibly. And that was really fun. I had a lot of fun doing that.
It never was my voice, I don’t think. I did definitely get people when they would hear interviews with me or podcasts with me, a couple of years ago, I was trying to link to a podcast I’d done and I couldn’t find the direct link. So I just looked it up on Twitter and somebody on there had said, “I really wish I could listen to this podcast, but Mara’s ‘likes’ and ‘ya knows’ are making it really annoying.”
Carrie Gillon: Oh, being a woman in podcasting.
Mara Wilson: Exactly. Exactly. Every woman I know has had this. Every woman I know has had people say “your voice is too shrill.” “You say, ‘you know’ too much, you say ‘like’ too much.” And I also looked at this person, this person was from New York. And I was like, look, I lived in New York. I know the New York dialect. I know what you probably sound like. I know you have annoying vocal tics as well, because I lived in New York and I consciously tried to change my voice to sound like New York. And I know all of the vocal patterns there. So I was like, “come on now. You know that you have just as many annoying vocal things as I do.”
Carrie Gillon: Right. I mean, people should know that.
Mara Wilson: Yeah. But they don’t. I do think it’s people not liking femininity. People don’t like weakness. I think they associate femininity with weakness and they associate not being direct with weakness, I think. And people don’t like weakness because they don’t like weakness in themselves. It always comes back to that, I think. People are afraid of being seen as weak. And when they see other people who are weak, they they’re like, “no, you suck, stop doing that. Stop being like that because it reminds me that I am weak.” It might be a bit reductive, but that’s how I see it.
Carrie Gillon: No, I think you are onto something. But the problem also is if you are more direct: I think I’m a pretty direct person. I also get in trouble for that.
Mara Wilson: Same.
Carrie Gillon: You just can’t win.
Mara Wilson: Yeah. I get in trouble for, “what did you say?” But I also get in trouble for “like” and “you know”. My friend, Abe Goldfarb, he’s wonderful and he does a lot of voiceover acting. And I remember we were talking about my voice once and he said, “you have an interesting hybrid of a Valley Girl and New York accent now.” And I was like, “I do, don’t I.” I mean, my stepmother said that when I came back from NYU, I was talking twice as fast and I was much more direct. So yeah. But you really do feel like you can’t win.
Megan Figueroa: The comment about having this hybrid, do you think that person at the audio book place would have said “you have a perfect voice for this” if you were just straight up Californian English?
Mara Wilson: No. I know that. And one of my brothers, I have a lot of brothers. Another one of my brothers is a college professor and he told me that he consciously changed the way that he talked, because he didn’t want to be thought of as stupid. He wanted to be respected. So he speaks a much more sort of baseline American now, too. And he’s very smart and very academically smart. And he went to Johns Hopkins and Harvard and kind of adopted more of an East Coast sort of hybrid to make him sound more- and now he sounds more neutral, but he said that he had to, he’s like, “yeah, I have to consciously watch it, ’cause people will, people will think of me as dumb.”
Carrie Gillon: I guess there are men who sound Californian and who do get pegged as dumb, but I think of it more as a woman’s problem.
Mara Wilson: Yeah, it is definitely, it can kind of happen across genders. I’ve also known trans women who changed the way that they spoke and they started speaking with more upspeak and talking softer and changing. And that I think is really interesting phenomenon.
I’ve known some Black women who say, “oh yeah, I adopt a Valley Girl accent when I don’t want to be seen as the angry Black woman.” So it can work in some ways too. So I think that it is something. I think it’s a very interesting phenomenon.
Megan Figueroa: I believe it was Nicole Holliday who came up with this term: sociolinguistic labor, when we’re changing the way that we speak to accommodate ourselves to whatever situation, to sound smarter or to sound less angry or whatever. We don’t think about that enough as something as a cognitive load. Really taking up resources.
Mara Wilson: I worked with a non-profit that repainted New York City public schools for a long time. And a lot of times the kids that we had painting the schools were perfect. The adult volunteers were not as good at following directions. And I always said that I would put on my Joan Holloway from Mad Men voice. So much of my job was just going up to the volunteers and being like, “okay, That’s really not what we need to be doing right now” and doing that and adopting that voice was, “okay. How about we do something different right now” that kind of soft-spoken breathy, doing that and that would make it gentle. There really is a shift and a change.
I also feel like people took me more seriously because I had a naturally low voice. Which is interesting, I think. I think that was another thing too, is that people are always telling me – I’m five feet tall and people are always telling me that I don’t seem that short. And I think it’s because of my voice, because my voice is low and it is loud.
Carrie Gillon: Megan listened to you in another podcast, and she noticed that you used the word “yenta” and so she wanted to know what your relationship with was with Yiddish.
Mara Wilson: Yeah. I grew up with a lot of Yiddish words that I didn’t really know were Yiddish. And because I grew up in Southern California, a lot of Spanish words made their way into my dialect as well. I would say a lot of my friends were Mexican-American or their families immigrated from El Salvador, Guatemala, places like that. And I remember being young and my mom saying on the phone. “Okay, see you mañana.” And I was like, “mom, come on.” And she’s like, “what?” And I was like, “not everybody speaks Yiddish, mom.” Yeah. I thought mañana was a Yiddish word because when my mom wasn’t speaking English, I associated it with Yiddish I thought that that’s what it was.
So, there were a lot of Yiddishisms in my growing up and it wasn’t full sentences, but if you were in trouble, you might get a “potch” or you would be threatened with a “potch” rather, which was a “spanking”. There was a lot of things like I’m trying to remember. We all said “oy vey,” we all said, “oy gevalt”. A lot of these are little kid words, like, “do you want a potch?” “No, I don’t want a potch.” Which you wouldn’t say to your kids today, but this was 30 years ago. And “pish,” which meant “to pee,” before bed and things like that. We learned little phrases and, and of course, you know, “oy vey” went in there, we all knew “yenta” and we all knew all of these little words that were thrown in there. And it was very common. It was just kind of thrown in there. And “mazel tov.” I still say “mazel tov” to everybody. I lived in New York and LA. I assume that everybody knows what “mazel tov “means.
Carrie Gillon: I think at this point, most people do.
Mara Wilson: Yeah, exactly. And so it was very common in my house andI did not actually speak Yiddish and I didn’t know anything about Yiddish structure, I don’t think we ever spoke Yiddish in full sentences, but we said the words around us so much, there were some words, I didn’t know if they were English, if they were Yiddish or they were something else. And my mom spoke some Spanish and was fluent in French. So I thought “aiyaiyai”, was Yiddish for a long time. And I thought “mañana” was Yiddish. I think that as I got older, I got a little bit more self-conscious about it.
I mean, I remember saying, “mazel tov” jokingly when a girl announced that it was her birthday on the subway and the person I was dating at the time overheard somebody make a remark about Jews and pulled me off at the next stop. You know, heard somebody saying an antisemitic slur and he pulled me off the subway and was like, “we’re going to change trains now.”
Carrie Gillon: Yeah, that was the right move.
Mara Wilson: Yeah. And it was strange because I don’t think I ever expected that to happen in me. But it did. It did.
I think that I became more self-conscious about it because I knew that we were one of the only Jewish families in town. And I did become more self-conscious about it as I got older, but I love that and my family and I, we still say things to each other in Yiddish all the time. And sometimes in Hebrew though, my Hebrew is way more limited.
Carrie Gillon: Last year, one of the words of the year nominations was “oysgezoomt,” which is from Yiddish. Fatigue or bored by Zoom. One of my favorites.
Mara Wilson: Perfect.
Megan Figueroa: Well, we’re running out of time with you. So basically, how can we be better about our expectations of women in the world, of women in front of the camera, of people in general?
Mara Wilson: I think we try to understand where people are coming from. Try to understand what their background is, why they say this. Instead of just saying, “don’t say ‘like’ anymore,” think of why they may be saying it and think of also why they might have been trained to say it. And because, for me, it was a way to soften things and it was also because I couldn’t immediately think of something because my mind was distracted. So try to ask yourself “why.” I think it’s never a bad idea to ask yourself “why and how.” Or “why do I think that they’re like this?” And I think that that’s good. And I think that it’s way too easy to generalize. I know I’ve done it probably even in this very conversation, but it’s way too easy to just be like, “oh, that’s annoying. I hate that.” Also ask yourself why you hate it. What is it? What is it about it that you find annoying? Cause that’s the thing I really don’t like, when people are like, “oh, that’s really annoying.” I’m like, “well, why is it annoying?” “Well, it’s just annoying.” “Okay. But why does it annoy you?” “Well, it just does.” And that that’s not a good excuse. And, and sometimes when something annoys me and I can’t figure it out, it will keep me awake at night. “Why does this actress annoy me?” And you should have a reason for finding something. And a lot of times it’s because it reminds you of your own past, or it reminds you of yourself and something you don’t like in yourself or reminds you of somebody you know, and something that you don’t like in them. So ask yourself why they do this, ask yourself how they do it and ask yourself why it bothers you before you make these judgements about them.
Carrie Gillon: Stop and think.
Mara Wilson: Yeah.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, absolutely.
Carrie Gillon: Well, thank you so much. This has been a really fun conversation.
Mara Wilson: This has been really fun.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Oh, thank you.
Mara Wilson: Thank you so much.
Carrie Gillon: We always leave our listeners with one final message. Don’t be an asshole.
The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon for Halftone Audio, music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfries. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and our website is vocalfriespod.com.