I’m so goddamned sick of people—mostly dudes—telling me how I sound. I was on a plane once, happily chatting away to a colleague, when the young guy behind me muttered to his seatmate, “That conversation has more likes than my Facebook page.” I turned around, looked him dead in the eye and asked, “Do you have a problem with the way I talk?” He was clearly shocked to be called out (#privilege!) and stammered, “N-n-n-no.” He may have been an out-and-out bully, but there are loads more passive-aggressive speech shamers these days. To wit: an 81-year-old man recently heard me on a CBC culture panel and helpfully emailed me links to a YouTube video on vocal fry and a bitchy newspaper column about how millennials’ use of upspeak and baby voices means we’ll never amount to anything, and it’s, like, our own fault?
But you know what? Every generation thinks the one that comes after it has the most atrocious diction. The very same boomers who recoil at every millennial “I know, right?” also horrified their elders with their own hippie verbiage (ya dig, man?). It’s also a myth that upspeak and filler words are the patois of Generation Y alone—or that they reveal poor character or intellectual laziness. You know who else says and does all that stuff? EVERYONE ON EARTH. As a journalist, I have interviewed hundreds of mind-searingly smart and hyperarticulate men and women (most older than me), and every single interview transcript, whether it’s with an Oscar winner or a celebrated academic, is riddled with bizarre sentence fragments and near-constant “ums” and “likes” and “sort ofs.” Because no matter how intelligent we are, we all generally sound like idiots once our speech patterns are scrutinized. It’s about time we applaud substance over delivery, and forgive the vocal quirks so natural to me, my gender and my generation (and, really, all of us). So you want to sound smart at work? Simply think before you speak, and then speak meaningfully. It’s up to the rest of ’em to shut up and listen, no matter how you say it.