She said…he didn’t.

June 13, 2015 § 11 Comments

Speech bubble, female.I was packing my author props for a school visit when I wondered, how many days of conversation would it take to say the number of words in the average middle-grade novel?

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:

Speech bubble, male.Traditionally, men have been in charge. It takes just one word to say “No.”

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.






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§ 11 Responses to She said…he didn’t.

  • craig reeder says:

    wow, i think you hit the nail right on the head!!! and that’s about all I have to say………….


  • craig reeder says:

    uuuuuuhhhhhhh, I dunno….


  • Indywind says:

    “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?”

    Ta Da! You have achieved the Fallacy of Appeal to Probability with bonus Anchoring Bias, Confirmation Bias, Attribution Error, and Subjective Validation.

    Would it feel intuitively right that women say more words per day, if there wasn’t such a stereotype of women being chatty and men being concise? If the first thing you read on the internet hadn’t so easily fit with that stereotype? If you looked for counterexamples rather than supporting examples?


    • Thanks for the links. Well, dang! I stand corrected, I should have done more research, but I have to say that the pejorative aspects of speaking a lot of words–such as gossiping were not at all on my mind when I wrote this.

      If I have a bias it is that I believe women are more collaborative in their use of language, a trait mentioned in the articles you cited–and I believe that is a strength. I have also observed that women (not a study, but what I have witnessed) use language to express emotion more often than men.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.


  • carolyn says:

    I had one male colleague that I would only call if I had a meeting or lunch in less than 30 minutes, or else he would have you on the phone for an hour……


  • Perhaps it is time for me to yell, “Uncle!”


  • Paul of Flowerland Mountains says:

    A good state of grace, Ms Adrian:
    (how I describe your topic):
    (putting on my psychology hat based on history of men / gender stuff)
    I wonder if while it is true that men of a certain age (generation) may have been taciturn, concise, even elemental (oh, what trouble I could get with that one!), it may be that they have nothing to say, no motivation to express the emptiness within, especially if after a mind and soul draining day with nose to the grindstone and all that…?
    … though I too have experience the feeling of being attacked when confronted by a lady wanting to know what is happening inside my head — which at the time may not have been a lot — I do understand the decision making and power orientation stuff you are adding to the mix:
    Even to this day, I still get automatic respect — unearned — from others just because of my attitude about life in general:
    … almost as a way to balance this out I find myself respecting and listening to people who don’t get listened to and/or respected much:
    I wonder if people who don’t speak and listen much – may not have much to say, and may not want (or be able…) to hear what other say?
    Sorry, Ms Adrian, your topic causes more questions than answers for me; which may be it’s intent anyway!


    • …and then there is being Swedish. My father’s side of the family had the most taciturn men you ever met, my dad included. My mother used to relay things to us like, “Your father is proud of you.” I think it was making emotional statements that gave him the willies. He was, as a thinker, one of the most deeply contemplative and insightful people I have ever known.

      He got more talkative with age. I really miss his wise company. He was great at removing emotion from problem solving. He saw things clearly.


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