Why do women talk so much? — A Dude on the Internets
Hard for us to believe that in the 50, 60 years we’ve been toiling at this dodgy gig, this question has never, ever come up. Are you men just so exhausted from all the jabber and yack, you can’t struggle to the computer? Brains blanked to such a white, smoky haze by cascades of nit-picking and marching orders that you can’t form a rational thought? Well, suck it up, Jack. It’s myth. All an urban myth that women talk a lot or talk more than men or perhaps have a sex-linked chat gene.
You can go back to medieval writings and find references that suggest the world even then believed that women talked more than men. The concept’s as old as dirt. According to linguists, it took on the role of “fact” sometime in the therapy-addled ’60s, with the Venus/Mars babble and relationship hysteria. It must be true because, well, everybody’s always believed it, and because I, a therapist, also think women overtalk. It was a neat category of difference between men and women to help couples understand why they couldn’t tolerate each other. Worse yet, somewhere along the line, someone applied numbers to the situation — average words per day: men 7000, women 21,000 — theoretically scientific, actually bunk. Some desperate researchers even opined that talky women, silent men have their roots in prehistory. Men the hunters shouldn’t scare away their prey with idle yammer as they stalked, while women the gatherers couldn’t startle gooseberries off a bush, so they could gossip all they wanted.
This chat stew was stirred up again recently, but this time more level heads have listened in on the situation. A study published two years ago in the journal Science analyzes everyday speech samples of men and women over seven years. Average words per day: women, 16,215; men, 15,669, the difference not statistically significant. Linguists and psychologists for the moment accept this as the linchpin study that supports surveys of thousands of smaller investigations that point in the same direction. No difference. Everybody’s just as chatty as everybody else. Who talks more varies much more with the social situation (women talk to strangers, men don’t), personal history (loners don’t talk much, no matter what their sex), or something like self-concept. (Big ego? Big talk.) So, differences within sex groups are more significant than between sex groups.
There are some interesting sidelights to this talk work. The Science study indicated that women gossip more, men talk more about concrete objects. Another study showed that men talk more in the workplace. Cingular wireless has an ongoing study of cell-phone users, and every year they find that men use cells 35 percent more than women do. Our favorite gender talk study showed that men talking to women they find extremely attractive lose a grip on their rational minds. Scientists memory-tested men before and after the chat, and their post-chat scores were pretty bad. Women, on the other hand, were not bedazzled by a handsome man. Post-test interviews suggested that the men were trying so hard to impress the vixen that their brains were completely overwhelmed by the task and had trouble getting a grip once the chat was over.
Matt: What is behind the need to show “proof” for whiskey? What does it mean other than percent alcohol? Is it based on the need for the master distiller to feel “bombed”? Isn’t percent alcohol enough for users? It is for me. Why isn’t beer and wine proofed? — Walt, Pacific Beach
You live in a simpler world, Walt. That’s admirable. If you mean percent alcohol, why don’t you say percent alcohol and be done with it? Well, history and tradition count for something, I’m afraid, and here’s where your annoying “proof” comes in. Blame the Brits, if you feel you need some target for your ire.
In the 1700s, the wages of British sailors were paid in part in rum, the staple of the high seas. If you were a crafty ship owner (which of course you were just because you were a ship owner), you watered down the crew’s drink to save a little money. Naturally, the sailors caught you at it, and they devised a method of testing the rum to make sure it would get them dead drunk. If the rum was mixed with gunpowder, then held close to a flame, the gunpowder should ignite if the alcohol content was correct. If it didn’t, that meant the ratio of water to alcohol and gunpowder was too high, and the crew was being cheated. The testing was called “proofing,” bad rum was “under proof,” and burnable rum was “100 degrees proof spirit.” As it turns out, the minimum alcohol content that allowed gunpowder to burn was 57.15 percent, known then and now as 100 proof. Beer and wine aren’t proofed because sailors weren’t paid in beer or wine, and the people who made beer or wine didn’t make rum.