Sex

A Few Words About Gender

Do men and women communicate differently?

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Editor's Note: Steve Chapman is on vacation. The following column was originally published in July 2007.

Saw the news on how much men and women talk. Seems some scientists toted up the oral output and got the same number of words from each gender. Find it hard to believe. To tell the truth, would rather not talk about it. Better to cogitate for a couple of days and then dismiss the whole business nonverbally, with a derisive snort or an exasperated sigh.

But boss says I owe him a column on something, so it might as well be this. Facts as follows: James Pennebaker, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas at Austin, rounded up some colleagues and outfitted 396 students with portable digital recorders to capture their conversations. To make a long story short, the study found women and men both utter about 16,000 words a day.

This research torpedoes the popular assumption that incessant yakking is correlated with X chromosomes. Or as Pennebaker told USA Today, with an admirable economy of words, "It's been a common belief, but it just didn't fit." The evidence is convincing enough that neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine, whose book The Female Brain cited claims that women speak at triple the rate of men, says those now "can be relegated to the category of myth."

All I can say is that if the average male is putting out 16,000 words every day, then I'm living in a verbal desert. Some guys I haven't met must be gushing verbiage like Old Faithful to make up for the ones I know, many of whom might easily be mistaken for victims of lockjaw.

That is not a description I would apply to many women of my acquaintance. The editorial board on which I serve used to be nearly all-male, but now has a female majority. I can describe the difference in two words: Longer meetings.

Among my friends and relatives, at least, a voluble man is a contradiction in terms. Some of them could make 16,000 words last an entire winter. We distrust verbal excess as a sin and a danger. We assume that any guy who talks freely and at length is blowing smoke, indulging his ego, or trying to sell us something we don't need.

We read the novels of Cormac McCarthy because his male characters can ride side-by-side for days across vast plains, through tragedy and adventure, without 1) ever opening their traps or 2) noticing anything unusual in that behavior. We rent Clint Eastwood movies because he communicates mostly by squinting his eyes or clenching his jaw. We love dogs because they don't talk, and they don't mind if we don't either. We'd rather have a rabid wolverine for a pet than a parrot.

We revere Abraham Lincoln because he made the greatest speech in American history while uttering just 269 words and taking up only two minutes of his audience's time. (His predecessor on the platform at Gettysburg, famed orator Edward Everett, gassed for two solid hours, and nobody remembers a thing he said.) We'd gladly give up cell phones for a return to Morse code.

Our slogan is, "Speak less, think more." Our hero is Calvin Coolidge, known as Silent Cal, and our favorite story is the time a woman sat by him at a dinner party and said she had made a bet she could get three words out of him. "You lose," he replied. In a more talkative moment, he confided that "nothing I never said ever did me any harm."

I assumed this tendency was passed on from fathers to sons. Once, when the grandparents were over for dinner and three charming females were dominating the conversation, my eldest son winced as though his ears hurt and said, "I had forgotten how much talk goes on when there are women around." He had just returned from a fishing trip with some buddies and recalled: "We could go all day sitting in the boat without saying anything but 'Beer?' and 'Sure.'"

But now I learn that the guys I know are wholly unrepresentative. Apparently for every one of us, there is some long-winded politician, preacher, auctioneer, or "Hardball" guest who talks more in his sleep than we do fully awake. I hope not to meet any of them in this life. But if I do, I'll know what to say: Shut up.

COPYRIGHT 2009 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

NEXT: London Vacation

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  1. Now that’s some hard hitting journalism.

  2. No. 16000 words is nearly a word every 5 seconds, faster if I discount sleeping time. I don’t believe anybody talks that much, I’m not even sure that’s practical, I suspect that I would injure my throat if I tried. Are you sure that it’s not supposed to be 16000 words per week, or is he just lying?

  3. The inclusion of my mother in this study would have added 40% more words to the woman average.

    And if you think I don’t understand the math, I counter with “You have never met my mother.”

  4. The inclusion of my mother in this study would have added 40% more words to the woman average.

    Whoa, i didn’t realize we were long-lost brothers.

  5. Xeones,

    Let’s test your hypothesis…

    If you took everything your mother says in a day, and then only counted words once–threw out the repeated words–would her total drop to about 1000 words a day?

    In fact, if you only counted the novel informational content (i.e. her telling you stuff you don’t already know) wouldn’t it drop to almost zero?

  6. Great, all we need right now is NutraSweet’s Oedipus complex. Dude, just bang your mom and get it over with, OK? Won’t that shut her up?

  7. Be careful Epi, you might get prosecuted when he murders his Dad now.

  8. Maybe not, Sweet’n’Low. My mom uses at LEAST 2000 distinct words a day.

    She is very good at repeating information her audience has already grasped, however. Probably comes from a lifetime of working in the public schools.

  9. No worries, rob, the Drew case got thrown out, so I’m clear. Speaking of which, have you ever contemplated doing yourself in? I can insult you a lot to help you along. If it’s any consolation, Xeones is thinking of offing himself too, after what he did with his mom.

  10. Hey, Xeones, does she say “at any rate” compulsively?

  11. In the 80s, the women’s corps of the Left’s “Statist ‘intellectuals'” seized the term feminism (like civil rights) to label their own doctrines, which did indeed “deny mind, independence and individuality.” “Feminism,” in the hands of collectivists (who, again, need collectives), was deformed into an ideology that assigns gender the same function that class and race serve in Marxism and Hitlerism, respectively. Very consciously aping the former, these “Second Wave” (AKA “gender” or “difference”) feminists posited sexual identity as the “structure” that “engenders” (a jeu de mots that they evidently found endlessly delightful) all “superstructures.” But the most strikingly reactionary aspect of all this was not the resurgence of sexism per se, but the resurgence of traditional sexism, e.g., the exact same connection of gender to “rationality” and “emotionalism.” The superficially “new” feature — the factor that makes something Leftist (and “revolutionary” and “progressive”) — was that while the old misogynists considered the former a “masculine” virtue and the latter a “feminine” vice, these misandrists valuated the former as a “phallocentric” evil and the latter as a “feminist” good. This polylogism of feminist sexism is one of the many commonalities with Marxist classism and Nazi racism. Too obviously, no one need fear even a trace of androgyny from these apostles of sexual Manichaeism. (The only gender differences these feminists denied were those that could actually be verified by science, a rival — and predictably “androcratic” — authority.)

    What made such outrageous bigotry acceptable again was the gender feminists’ focus on sex. That is, when male sexuality became “sexism,” feminist gender bias ceased to be. This brazen act of legerdemain began with the anti-pornography campaign and tumefied into a state of hostilities where every expression of male sexuality was attacked by some feminists somewhere — with, true, one exception: nocturnal emission. Feminists were the Sexual Revolution’s reactionaries (who, tellingly, dubbed their villains “sexual liberals”). The nostalgic Sheila Jeffreys, for example, applauded Victorian Era writers who “felt sexual intercourse” — a phenomenon common to pretty much every life form above Hydra — “to be a humiliating practice because it showed men’s dominance more than anything else.” Sex, not sexism, oppressed women.

    FULL STORY

  12. Wow, thats amazing. I simply cannot believe it dude!

    RT
    http://www.anonymize.tk

  13. Not compulsively, Art, but the phrase does occur.

    If it’s any consolation, Xeones is thinking of offing himself too, after what he did with his mom.

    It wasn’t my mom, Epi, it was your mom. Tell her to stop calling me.

  14. I’ll have you know, X, that my mom is your mom. Contemplate that, bitches.

  15. No worries, rob, the Drew case got thrown out, so I’m clear.

    Like that would stop any top notch prosecutor.

    I didnt say you would lose.

  16. I’ll have you know, X, that my mom is your mom. Contemplate that, bitches.

    I heard she also mothered Anonymity Guy.

  17. If you took everything your mother says in a day, and then only counted words once–threw out the repeated words–would her total drop to about 1000 words a day?

    In fact, if you only counted the novel informational content (i.e. her telling you stuff you don’t already know) wouldn’t it drop to almost zero?

    Dude, I think I’m married to your mother!

  18. I’ll have you know, X, that my mom is your mom.

    Not true, but i guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag: Epi, i’m actually your father. I’ve tried to hide my shame from the world for all these years. Your mom wasn’t sure for a long time — there were a lot, i mean a LOT, of dudes who could have been it — but she did the DNA testing thing a while back and, well, there it is.

    I guess i’m supposed to take you to a baseball game now or some shit.

  19. She is very good at repeating information her audience has already grasped, however.

    Dude, don’t even complain about this until you have a wife and know what you’re talking about.

  20. “Honey, did you hear what they said on NPR today?”

    “Yes, I heard all of it on the drive home.”

    “Well, let me tell you about it, then…”

  21. “We’d gladly give up cell phones for a return to Morse code.”

    That’s why I use a BlackBerry. If they still made one without a phone, I think I’d buy it.

  22. I’ll have you know, X, that my mom is your mom.

    Not true, but i guess it’s time to let the cat out of the bag: Epi, i’m actually your father.

    Those aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, Xeones.

  23. Those aren’t exactly mutually exclusive, Xeones.

    Not everybody on this board is from Kentucky, RC.

  24. Article says the study was done on college students in Texas. I would like to see the study done on married couples. I suspect the results would be a bit different.

  25. College students are not representative. I believe males speak less and less with age and women more and more.

  26. Just because you *know* words doesn’t mean you have to keep blurting them out all the doo-dah day.

    ps- Chapman *still* sucks, and I do not read his columns.

  27. I think it should be about a study of informational content. Both sexes would lose out.

    Most of the talk between girls on campus seems to consists of repeating conversations they had with other girls. It’s the wholesale trafficking in hearsay. And probably the conversation they are relating was itself based around hearsay, which was itself based on hearsay… It’s turtles all the way down…

    I wonder if there was a completely non-duplicative conversation at some point in the distant past where no “she said ______! and then she said ______!” occurred at all and all subsequent cell phone usage between girls have surfed the nattering waves of consternation that resulted. Does girl conversation have to be occasionally reseeded with a volatile core of original information or is it a perpetual boredom machine whose constant recycling of gossip defies the 2nd law of thermodynamics? Can we harvest its power?

    Of course, “You see the game?” and “She’s hot.” is about all our campus boys seem to manage at this point…

  28. Anonymity Guy has no human mother. He’s the result of a Speak and Spell being repeatedly raped by an autodialer.

  29. I think it should be about a study of informational content. Both sexes would lose out.

    I’ve seen a study that looked at differences in communications among boys and girls in elementary schools. It found that girls averaged somewhere around 15000 words a day, while boys managed barely 6000 — half of which were onomatopoeia. BOOM KSSSHH pew pew pew!

  30. “Ugh! Gimme!”

    *points*

  31. Men perceive information, like dirt, differently than do women. If a man asks another man how his vacation was, the response will probably be something like “fine” or “crappy” — we don’t need no stinkin’ *details*!

  32. Of course, “You see the game?” and “She’s hot.” is about all our campus boys seem to manage at this point…

    You forgot “Did we have homework?” and “Can I copy it?”.

  33. I went to the store *BOOOSH* and there was a !KABLAMO! then PEWPEW-LAAAAAAZZZZZOOORRSSS!

    It was an awesome day.

  34. It found that girls averaged somewhere around 15000 words a day

    Almost a thousand words every waking hour? Fifteen words a minute, without taking any breaks?

    Color me highly skeptical.

  35. He’s the result of a Speak and Spell being repeatedly raped by an autodialer.

    Somebody has a bright future writing Randian (I keed, I keed) robot porn.

    Color me highly skeptical.

    Maybe the sample group was all telemarketers?

  36. “Do men and women communicate differently?”

    Yes.

  37. According to Wolfram Alpha, 16,000 words is equivalent to 110 minutes of speaking. I can believe that people speak that much while they’re awake.

    It’s amazing to me that the idea of speaking 15 words a minute is hard to believe. Just read that last sentence aloud to yourself (it’s 17 words). I’m sure it will take you maybe… 5 seconds? 10? We squeeze a lot of words into very little time. Sometimes we even skimp on syllables. I’m sure no one says, “Did not you eat?” They say, “Dincha eat?” I bet you could get to 16000 words pretty quickly if you talk a lot during the day.

    I have to agree with Chapman that the fact that men and women speak at the same rate seems dubious. It would be interesting to see that context of the discussions though. Linguistic researchers usually find that men speak a LOT more in professional contexts and women a LOT more in social contexts.

    I bet the distribution of how these 16,000 words are being spent would at least be in keeping with traditional gender roles, even if the rate of speech is more or less the same…

  38. I wonder if there was a completely non-duplicative conversation at some point in the distant past where no “she said ______! and then she said ______!” occurred at all and all subsequent cell phone usage between girls have surfed the nattering waves of consternation that resulted.

    “she said”? No, it’s “she’s like”. Apparently, young womens don’t say things, they like them verbally, you know, like…

  39. According to Wolfram Alpha, 16,000 words is equivalent to 110 minutes of speaking. I can believe that people speak that much while they’re awake.

    I can’t, since each person is only half of a conversation. 220 minutes of conversation a day? Almost four hours of interrupted speech? I guess for telemarketers and help desk support workers that would easily be true, but what about everyone else?

  40. I can’t, since each person is only half of a conversation. 220 minutes of conversation a day?

    Not if one of those halves is male. In that case it’s more like 115 minutes.

  41. Somebody has a bright future writing Randian (I keed, I keed) robot porn.

    I’ll work on it.

  42. Of course, “You see the game?” and “She’s hot.” is about all our campus boys seem to manage at this point…

    I have been spending my days on college campuses for about 30 years now. It has always been thus. Well, you might throw in “Dude, I got totally wasted last night!” (Yes, they said Dude 30 years ago. At least where I was.)

  43. College males talk more than married males, because college guys are trying to get them some pussy, while married guys are trying to avoid any incriminating statements.

    Extrapolating generalized behavior from studies done exclusively on college kids is bound to lead to erroneous conclusions.

    I’ll sometimes go an entire day saying less than 100 words, with my wife constantly asking me to talk to her more, so color me skeptical about the validity of this study.

  44. I wonder if guys talked more before the convenience of the internet for verbose spewage.

  45. Like pretty much every other guy here, I have a hard time believing males and females talk equally as much. All of us can see, on any given day, that is just not the case. Observe cell phone activity on your next drive. Or trip to the supermarket. Or stroll through a park.

    My wife talks less than most women but still never says in 10 words what she can say in a thousand.

  46. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke

  47. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…

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