Proxy Voice

Agent of torment Fred Brookbank is recounting a conversation we shared earlier. As I spin interest from revulsion—a latter day Rumpelstiltskin, I am—Kelly will listen attentively to anything the man says, because she’s not really listening to anything. I know this because whenever Fred looks at me, I glance at Kelly and see her take advantage of Fred’s redirected attention to adjust something on her person. Straightening her blouse, shifting in her seat, or brushing her hair behind her ear—she wants to impress Fred. She’s doing it slowly, the way a lioness creeps forward only when her prey isn’t looking.

Meanwhile—and I need to get back to this point—Fred’s reciting words two octaves above his normal register.

And that’s the thing, see. It’s not his own voice, but his proxy voice; that dumbed down caricature of a voice that people use to fill what would otherwise be gaps in recounted dialogue. Most people use a proxy voice of some kind, typically to mock their siblings:

Victim: “Ow! Stop touching my neck!”

Assailant: “Dop duching by neck, yuh yuh yuh!

That’s a good example of the hapless wean. There’s also the huffy voice of authority, the whine of the disinclined, and the dullard’s babble. Interpretations of these archetypical anti-heroes are present across cultures. I first realized that the proxy voice was universal on a trip to the Songam Art Gallery on an Incheon city bus a few years back. I passed the time listening to a conversation between two Korean women who were, by all outward appearances, well-adjusted and mature. Yet it was clear to me that they were talking about someone else—a third party who was not present—because their dialogue was punctuated in that very distinct way:

“Boeeo jeff sahm, ‘Chawn mahn yawng kyeh!’ sum nee, dah kaseyo.”

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