Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Bitchin!! (In Honor of Valley Girls Everywhere)

Contributed by Georgia Menides

"Gag me with a spoon" and "barf me out the door"!  As much as we all love to laugh at "Valley Girl" lingo how much do you... like... actually know about its origins? 

As a programmer for The Valley Film Festival and lover of all things (818), I decided to do some digging into the history of these phrases as well as the concept of "upspeak" in general.

Although the expressions that made the words "Valley Girl" so ubiquitous did in fact originate in Encino, CA. in the late 1970s, entomologists have actually traced the beginnings of "upspeak" or "high rising terminal" back to the 1930s in parts of England and Australia. By "high rising terminal", I am referring to the use of a rising pitch intonation at the end of a sentence where a falling pitch is actually implied by its contents. So this concept that we have of a "Valley Girl" inflection being synonymous with being rich, female, flighty, or shallow couldn't be farther from the truth.  Speaking this way is actually quite international. 

San FernandoValley by Serouj via WikiCommons
That being said, in the late 70's and early 80's, up-speak did make its way into Encino, and other pockets of the San Fernando Valley, where it took on a life of its own.

In 1982,  Frank Zappa truly immortalized the concept with his song "Valley Girl" on the album "Ship Arriving too Late to Save a Drowning Witch." Lyrics with phrases like "gag me with a spoon," "bitchin," and others were given to him from his daughter, Moon Unit, then a teenager, who compiled a list of phrases she heard from her peers at the mall, in school, at parties, etc. and collaborated with her father on this track. (Read full lyrics here.)

On the heels of this song came Tracey Nelson's character, Jennifer DiNuccio, on the TV show "Square Pegs" where she played the ultimate Valley Girl. DiNuccio was known to use the word "like" up to 30 times per episode!!
Other TV shows like "Silver Spoons," "Saved by the Bell," and "My Two Dads," along with the movie "Clueless" continued to immortalize this kind of talk and link it to a vapid culture of shallow young girls dying to, like, go to the mall. 

But recent speech scholars have done extensive studies on "upspeak" and have been myth-busting ever since. 

These days,  this type of inflection is characteristic of all of Southern California, across all races, classes, ages, sexes, and cultural demographics. No longer does talking like a Valley Girl imply a less than stellar intellect. These days, Valley Speak, is simply a sign that someone may be from Southern California (aka the best place to live in the universe). So, like, embrace your inner Valley Girl with pride!!