Lately I’ve become fond of the phrase ‘out of control stuttering’ but I never miss the irony when I use it. Save for voluntary stuttering, are we ever really in control of our dysfluencies? If you stutter, you most likely know what I’m talking about: those times when the struggle seems enormous and certain syllables or words require a sisyphean effort vs the times when we might not be stuttering less, but the struggle really isn’t there. From what I understand, this is what we talk about when we say ‘messy’ vs ‘clean’ stuttering.
So, is this just part of the variability of stuttering? Why try to qualify it? For me, I constantly wonder if one of these is a more true representation of my voice. Perhaps because I was covert for so long I don’t feel like I even know what my authentic voice really sounds like.
In preparing to write this post, I reached out to friends on Facebook and asked them to give their thoughts on ‘clean’ vs ‘messy’ stuttering. What do those terms mean? What emotions do they evoke?
Most people seemed to agree that ‘clean’ stuttering consists of light, easy repetitions that lack much struggle and secondaries. It is not necessarily more fluent but may be closer to ‘normal’ speech. It may feel like we have more control over emotional elements. Most of the people who answered had a rather neutral feeling about clean stuttering, while they perhaps agreed it was easier and more acceptable.
Messy stuttering, on the other hand, evoked much more discussion. The definition that developed is that ‘messy’ stuttering involves much more struggle, usually with blocks, tension, and secondaries. “Messy” stuttering sometimes happens when we are excited, emotional, tired or ill, but also when we try to hide our stutters. Occasionally and inexplicably, ‘messy’ stuttering seems to happen out of the blue. Regardless of the cause, we often have negative emotion while or after it occurs.
Rather than shedding light on which is more authentic, these discussions led to more questions. Do many of us seek ‘clean’ stuttering because it’s easier or because it’s more acceptable to fluent people? Is striving for clean stuttering just another form of assimilation? Is ‘messy’ stuttering more spontaneous or is it just a negative consequence of trying not to stutter? Can both of these be our most authentic voice, or are they equally valid way to speak and just situational?
I don’t think these questions can be answered easily and probably not in the same way for everyone. Personally I want to be more at peace (even enjoy) my ‘messy’ stuttering. Perhaps not the times when I’m trying not to stutter, but the times when I’m filled with emotion. Most likely we all need to learn to be comfortable with both our ‘clean’ and ‘messy’ voices. They each have value and drawbacks. Who wants to be one-sided?
Thanks to Carl, Elizabeth S, Pam, Emma, Ian and Jennifer for your contribution to this discussion. I invite anyone to keep this conversation going either in the comments, or on facebook or twitter.