Tom DeLonge's a prickly pop-punk singer, one we'll probably never understand. He's getting the boot from his longtime band Blink-182; he claims concerts performed by his other band, Angels & Airwaves, feel "like an ascension to heaven"; his belief in alien lifeforms is well-documented. But why does he sing as though chopsticks are being speared into his nostrils? Science has the answer.
Writer Dan Nosowitz's quest to understand "the pop-punk voice" — think Blink, Sum 41, Green Day, New Found Glory — led him to Stanford linguistics professor Penelope Eckert, who had much to say on the subject after examining Blink-182 classic "First Date." Eckert is a leading scholar in the study of the California Shift — a theory that attempts to explain the way people speak along the Pacific coast of the U.S. DeLonge may be embellishing the trait, she says, something that's not uncommon among California surfers and skaters. Pop-punk, of course, has roots in both of those cultures.
Central to the California Shift theory is the cot/caught merger, Nosowitz writes in his story for website Atlas Obscura. Midwesterners like us might pronounce those words with an “aw" sound, while Northeasterners might go the "ah" route, he explains. “Californians do not,” Eckert tells Nosowitz. “They have no idea. That vowel is almost completely merged. Think ‘mawwm’ instead of ‘mom.’” She also notes Cali residents tend to put extra stank on words ending with "R" (think "whateverrr").
Nosowitz's entire piece is exhaustive, fascinating, and informative, introducing you to terms like trop-bocking, diphthong, and oo-fronting. Those heady concepts go down easy when told through the prism of the band that brought us Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.
Continue your educaton with this 10-hour loop of DeLonge's nasal-marathon verse on Blink 182 song "Miss You," as requested by comedian Nathan Fielder.