Earlier this week I noticed a spike in interest in an article I wrote years ago about Upspeak – rising intonation on a statement.
I couldn’t work out why the sudden interest, but rereading it I saw that one of the examples in the article was Chandler Bing – Matthew Perry’s character in Friends.
It’s hard to imagine an actor more closely associated with rising intonation than Perry.
Here are some famous examples from Friends:
These examples aren’t technically examples of upspeak, because they are framed as questions.
But they feel like upspeak, because when you break them down, they are essentially sarcastic statements:
The answer would always be “no” to any of these “questions”.
The effect is always sarcastic.
The stress on the state verb BE is unusual. It became Chandler and by association Perry’s, catchphrase (or catch construction since you can apply it to nearly anything).
During Covid Perry sported a “Could I BE any more vaccinated” T-shirt to try to encourage people to get the jab.
If you wanted to read more into it, you could note that there’s a certain vulnerability to the most famous male American sitcom characters of the 90s.
In Seinfeld, Friends and Frasier most of the male characters present slightly neurotic, awkward maleness as food for laughs.
Perry’s rising tones and sardonic emphasis embody this 90s male character in one neat phrase.
David Crane, the co-creator of Friends said about casting the role:
“Marta [Kauffman] and I were thinking, ‘Chandler is just poorly written’… Then Matthew came in and you went, ‘Oh, well, there you go. Done. Done. That’s the guy.’” (SOURCE: The Guardian)
So Perry’s an actor who will be remembered for a very specific type of tone unit.
But since it isn’t technically upspeak, what shall we call it?
How about “Matthew Perry’s sardonic rise.”?
Or in other words:
“Could this tone unit ↗BE more Perry?”
I think we already know the answer…