Chatty Cathy, Taciturn Ted?

Think again. A study challenges the stereotype of male-female verbal habits.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published July 7, 2007 12:12AM (EDT)

Feel that? We were just rocked by an earthquake registering 7.0 on the Cultural Richter Scale. At least if the frenzied media coverage is to be trusted. If you haven't already heard the news, brace yourselves: A report published today found that women don't talk more than men, after all. (Of course, if you were reading Broadsheet several months back, this wouldn't come as much of a surprise.)

Researchers at the University of Arizona tracked the number of words used by male and female college students by equipping them with digital voice recorders; then the tapes were analyzed, the data collected. As the New York Times' Donald G. McNeil Jr. puts it (ever so succinctly): "Result: whoops. Women emit 16,125 words per day, men 15,669. Statistically, even-steven." The study has its limits -- it did focus entirely on the verbal patterns of college students; there might be an argument that the academic environment lessens differences in male-female verbosity. But lead researcher Matthias Mehl said major biological differences still would have shown up.

Just like that, another enduring stereotype expires. Anyone feeling in sudden need of grief counseling need not worry -- there are still plenty stereotypes to cling to, even in the verbal realm. The study found that women do talk more about their feelings; men talk more about sports and technology.

And, in a wholly unscientific response to the study, the BBC decided to consult "a handful of females" on those 546 additional words women were shown to speak (remember, a statistically irrelevant difference). They came up with a list of 46 words "women might say [and] men probably wouldn't," including: pilates, size zero, footless tights and feminism.

Color me speechless.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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