Unsurprising News About Words

Everybody knows that women talk so much more than men that it’s unbelievable.  I mean, men are reticent, stoic.  We don’t need words.  We primarily communicate using roundhouse kicks to the head and a series of grunts.  Meanwhile, women just yack, yack, yack, until you just want them to shut up.  I mean, everybody knows that women just talk so much more than men that it’s unbelievable, and that’s because the women are always gossiping about silly girl things while men are installing carburetors.

Yes, everybody knows that.  And everybody is wrong:

Men talk every bit as much as women do, U.S. researchers said after painstakingly counting every word that 400 volunteers spoke.

Their study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, challenges the common wisdom that women are somehow biologically programmed to talk more — but the researchers said people do often fulfill gender roles when it comes to subject matter.

“Women and men both use on average about 16,000 words per day, with very large individual differences around this mean,” the researchers, led by psychologist Matthias Mehl of the University of Arizona, wrote.

Mehl and colleagues had been struck by widespread assertions that women talk more each day than men, and have a bigger vocabulary. “The 20,000-versus-7,000 word estimates appear to have achieved the status of a cultural myth,” they wrote.

“So we generalize and say that women just talk all the time,” Mehl added in a telephone interview.

Yep, and far be it from me to put my pro-feminist radar up, but there couldn’t be any ulterior motive to that myth, could there?  I mean, I can’t imagine why we would be told that women talk too much and men not enough, unless it was to encourage women to quiet down and men to speak up.

But that’s just crazy talk, I know.

Of course, the myth’s not totally untrue:

“The data suggest that women spoke on average 16,215 words and men 15,669 words over an assumed period of, on average, 17 waking hours,” the researchers wrote.

Yeah!  See, you chicks won’t pipe down!  Why, that’s a three percent difference!  And I’m sure that holds for all women and men, right?

The variation among the different men in the sample and among the women was far greater than the differences between the sexes as a group, Mehl said.

Or not.

Of course, every article of this nature must at least leave us with one cherished preconceived notion intact, lest our heads explode from cognitive dissonance:

There were stereotypical difference in subject matter.

“Men talk more about technology, work, money. They also use more numbers,” he said.

“Women talk more about fashion and about relationships.”

Yeah!  See, men are talking about important things, like numbers.  Like, did you know Barry Bonds has hit 751 homers?  That’s a number!  Meanwhile, girls just talk about clothes.  I mean, those gender differences are true no matter how many words you use.

But again, Mehl said, the differences between two men or between two women were far greater than overall sex differences.

Or, you know, it could be that men and women are quite a bit more alike than different, that much of our view of gender difference is based on our human propensity to declare everything either/or, which ends up putting chattiness and gossip in the feminine column and a lack of communication in the male column, when women and men are both capable of being chatty or quiet, obsessed with numbers or with clothes, concerned about work and concerned about relationships.

But I think this just proves that men spend their whole day talking about important stuff like numbers while women talk about frivolity.  Which reminds me: how many of those homers do you think Bonds was juiced for?  I think about 400.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Unsurprising News About Words

  1. Women SHOULD talk more – they sure have more to be angry about!

    And by the way if any women out there or cool men do have anything to say – submissions are open for the next carnival of the feminists which is being hosted chez Cru-blog and you can make your offerings here:

    http://cruellablog.blogspot.com/2007/07/submit-to-cruella.html#comments

  2. NameChanged

    Who cares how much/little I talk? This is silly. People talk to people about what they have in common. Did the study discuss who the subjects were speaking to? I can only speak to my step-mother about frivolous things, and she responds in kind. I speak to my sister about “important” things, and she responds in kind.

    And I rarely talk about fashion. Am I not a woman? My husband never talks about sports. Is he secretly a woman? Ugh.

  3. nightshift66

    Stereotypes and generalizations exist because most people are mentally lazy. If I have to actually treat all those people I meet as individuals with their own quirks and hangups, that’s a lot to learn. Much easier to lump people and leap to conclusions based on insufficient and irrelevant data.

    In this instance, I’m not surprised by either the findings or the stereotype. People being people, I’d expect everyone to speak within the same range. However, it always subjectively feels like a speaker is droning on forever if you are uninterested in what they are saying. So that says more about the societal bias toward the male point of view than anything else, I think.

  4. Kate Harding

    Thank god I already had the fainting couch and mint julep handy after Liss’s news that dieting doesn’t make you happy. At least I was ready for this.

    My brother actually sat me down and told me several years ago that men have something biologically different about their ears that makes it painful for them to listen to women for too long, so if a chick talks too much, men have no choice but to tune out. He had read this somewhere and was convinced it was gospel truth. Scientific truth.

    And he told me this because he was concerned for me — he didn’t want me to be alone for the rest of my life. If I ever wanted to snag a man, I needed to learn not to talk so goddamned much. That was the take-away message.

    I am not making this up.

    And my brother is not even Chris Matthews.

    And I am very happily cohabitating with a man who says the first thing that attracted him to me was that I was smart and could talk about anything. (Which, incidentally, was what my dad cited as the first thing that attracted him to my mom in 1957. How they produced my brother, I don’t fucking know.)

  5. I can’t think of anything to say.

  6. Anne

    Here’s an article on the topic that’s much better and more in depth than the Reuters one. There’s also a study (on a cached Google page) which is about 18 years old, but still poignant — one of the things about it that stuck out most to me when I first read it was the researchers’ finding that there are “striking similarities” between the conversations between men and women and those between adults and children — with men being the adults and women being the children. Soooo much of that study rang true for me when I read it — any time I’m in a mixed gender setting, men are always interrupting me, ignoring me, changing the subject, talking down to me, and as a result, I use a lot of the same techniques for participating in a conversation as the women in the study do. I say things like “Guess what?” even though I think it sounds inane, because as a woman I have a very small window of time in which I can contribute something to a conversation. And even then, I find that I have to make my point really, really quickly, and still I often end up getting ignored or talked to like a dog that just pissed on the floor.

    This isn’t the case at all with all-female conversations, where I don’t have to fight like a demon to get heard and my opinions are respected. The sad thing is that a lot of times women ignore other women in mixed-gender settings, because we’ve also absorbed the idea that what men say is more important than anything we could possibly want to say.

  7. Ah, another study that shows that there is more diversity amongst men or women, than between men and women (or, in other words, that there is more similarity between men and women than amongst women or men alone).

    Just like strength. And height. Etc, etc, etc …

    One would almost think these myths existed because there was some cultural investment in trying to maintain some supposed incredibly important and HUGE difference between the sexes.

    Nah, I’m imagining things.

  8. Anne

    Oops, the link in my comment didn’t work:

    http://www.pbs.org/speak/speech/prejudice/women/

  9. Anne

    One would almost think these myths existed because there was some cultural investment in trying to maintain some supposed incredibly important and HUGE difference between the sexes.

    Sadly, I just found out that there’s an article in Wikipedia on sex differences. I didn’t look at it because I was sure my head would explode. (BTW, am I the only one who hates Wikipedia?)

  10. After looking at some feminist stuff quite a while back, I actually found myself watching myself attempting to interrupt women talking. It’s enlightening to notice this about yourself.

    Naturally, I’ve attempted to change it. Now I talk over everyone on the grounds that I’m so much smarter than them.

  11. anangryoldbroad

    My husband works at a mid sized company with branches in TX,FL,GA,NC,DC,VA,and CO. He works in the maintainence/construction division which is mostly men. He has about 45 guys he supervises in three states. I have never heard so much gossip and nosing into other people’s beeswax in my life,you would not believe the freaking drama. It puts the soaps to shame. I’ve also never met anyone who spends more time on the phone as my husband does. I couldn’t out talk the man if I had to. I’d throw my phone in the fucking driveway and run over it repeatedly if it rang as often as his does. I have to threaten to do that to his phone to get him to turn the thing off.

    So there’s at least 46 guys who yap way more than I do,lol.

  12. Angelos

    I do think men do silence better. Especially if fire is involved.

    At our get-togethers, after the women have gone to bed, we just sit around the bonfire and stare. Crack the occasional joke, but that’s about it. Grunt and fart a bit…

    During the day though, we’re yakking as much as we can, catching up with the last 2 or 3 months of everyone’s lives.

  13. At our get-togethers, after the women have gone to bed, we just sit around the bonfire and stare. Crack the occasional joke, but that’s about it. Grunt and fart a bit…

    We’re a little bit like Kurt Vonnegut’s aliens that way…

  14. Ginger Yellow

    Language Log, which is actually cited in the Science paper, has been tracking and debunking this myth for ages. The current top post there has a huge collection of links to stories on the subject.

  15. I’m so glad you snarked at this breaking news. I saw the headline and passed by it, knowing I would be unsatisfied if I read it and did no snarking, but here you’ve already done a fine job of it.

    It’s not precisely new, just-in, cutting edge science though. I remember learning in Psych 101 6-7 years ago that male college students speak more in class than female students did, and I was flabbergasted – as were most of the students in the class. We were all so sure than women were doing all the yapping, but a little casual case-studying revealed that this was not so.

  16. Pingback: Unsurprising News About the Usual Suspects at Shakesville

  17. Jewel

    Peach, I teach college, and in my personal experience, the men do talk a lot more than the women – even though my classes tend to have more women students than men. FWIW. Also, Charles Gibson’s report on this study on the news last night was infuriating – he smirked, disbelieving, “Really? Men talk as much as women?? *chuckle chuckle*” Yeah it is SO FUNNY to buy into and reinforce sexist stereotypes. Grrrr. >:-(

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