She said…he didn’t.
June 13, 2015 § 11 Comments
The writing process is daunting to kids.
I wanted to be able to say, “Heck, you say enough words to fill a novel every day!
Or every three days. Or every five. We’d talk about the quality of those words later.
Questioning the ready crystal ball of the internet: how many words does a person say in a day? I got, not one answer, but two.
Female: about 20,000. Male: about 7,000.
The discrepancy was so great—nearly three to one—that I forgot all about the question of speaking a novel’s-worth of words and began thinking about how men and women use language.
It is too simplistic to say women are just chattier than men. Obviously they are, but why? How does the relationship the sexes have with communication differ?
Here are my theories:
Against that monosyllabic turn-down women use a welter of words to persuade, explain, convince, conciliate, mediate, plead. Women have learned that men can be worn down by the sheer friction of words.
Men travel the shortest distance between two points. They decide. To quote W, “I’m the decider!” They go it alone.
Women are natural collaborators. Collaboration requires communication. Even when not collaborating women chat, demonstrating that they are ready to collaborate should the need arise.
One day my neighbor, Kathleen, dropped over on no particular mission. “I just want to touch antennas.” Try to imagine a man saying that to another man.
Men compete. Competition requires less communication than collaborating, in fact, communication can be a negative when competing. Don’t show your hand.
Men tend to collaborate in more stylized ways, being on a common team for example, where the collaboration is physical and rule-bound and the fist bump can say it all.
Language use for women is often an emotional transaction. Where men seem to view language as a practical tool, like a hammer, women wield language like a paint brush.
Women come to understand their emotions by talking them over. Because of this outlet they are less likely to brood, punch a wall, get drunk, suffer in silence. Sharing emotions through a good talk could be mistaken for weakness in a man.
Women are often the ones who teach the young. By the time tying a shoelace has been mastered a lot of words have been spoken.
This is a chicken and egg kind of thing. Underlying the habits of language use are neural differences in how the male and female brain processes experience. Female brains are wired for the abstraction, nuance, and detail of language. Men respond more strongly to sensory input from sources other than language.
I wonder, is the mind of the average man a quieter place? Do men’s thoughts take some form other than the whir of words that buzzes in my female brain?
I wish we could visit each other’s minds.
Of course there is a caveat for any general statement. Some women are taciturn. Some of the best language users in literature are men. Some women hold their emotions close. Some men spill.
And the internet may have lied about those word counts. The internet often does. But doesn’t it feel intuitively right that women say more words in a day than men?
Note to men: to scare or drive a woman crazy, go silent. She will imagine all the things you are not saying but must be thinking (you’re not). She will plan her response to what you will eventually say, certain you must just be thinking it over (again, you’re not). Persist in your silence long enough and she will spontaneously combust.
Note to women: to aggravate a man, ensure that he will walk out, and possibly punch a wall, talk at him, demand that he share how he feels, insist that he bare his emotions, like, right now.
About speaking a novel: my middle grade novels run about 60,000 words. The average woman would hit that word count in three days. For the average man it would take nearly nine.