George W. Bush was a famous g-dropper, always workin' hard at bein' a man
of the people. Sarah Palin is a calculating leader of the no-g movement. She's
constantly sayin' goin' and tryin' and wantin'. But when it comes to controversial
political issues, Palin will convert to using the full g-force to tell us what's
worth fighting for or voting for - always with the g in place.
Levying taxes, a serious matter on both sides of the aisle, is never taxin'.
President Obama, too, seems able to shift from g-dropping to g-adding, depending
on the nature of the audience or tone of his message. One clue: If the president
uses the term "folks" in his speech, then it's almost certain that
many words will be g-free.
Regardless, the official White House transcripts - as with the energy speech
cited above - always include the g's, even in cases when they were never uttered
by the president.
Women seem to have embraced g-dropping more than men. Meredith Vieira of NBC's "Today" show
chirps every morning about goin' somewhere or talkin' about something or sayin'
this or that. Linda Cohn, the ESPN sportscaster, may be the most aggressive g-dropper
in all of television. Her voice-overs always have players goin' to the hoop,
tryin' to make the tackle, and lookin' for the shot.
Funny how things are changin'. In his new autobiography, Bill White, the acclaimed
baseball player and broadcaster, explains that in the early 1970s he spent many
hours with a voice coach trying to curb his habit of dropping g's in sports reports.
If he were still on the air today, White would presumably need coaching to get
rid of those g's he worked so hard to reinstate.
The absence of g's can be rather pleasant in conversation - even in presidential
policy speeches - to a point. Personally, though, I find I pass that point when
the pattern becomes obvious; when it's distracting. (Alas, having read this far,
you are probably cursed to joinin' me.)
Linguists and social scientists who have examined the matter point out that
the rate of g-dropping tends to be more prevalent among lower classes - but it
also goes up among higher classes when striving for greater informality and lightheartedness.
In his linguistics class at the University of Pennsylvania, instructor Mark
Liberman noted, "nearly all English speakers drop g's sometimes, but in
a given speech community, the proportion varies systematically depending on formality,
social class, sex, and other variables." After studying speeches by President
Obama, Liberman observed, "Obama's dropped g's tend to occur in verb forms
whose subjects are 'ordinary Americans,' and whose meaning has something to do
with the struggles of ordinary life."
So, when politicians and network anchors drop their g's, is it pandering?
Meredith Vieira never misses a g when reading a news script, only when interviewing
guests or chatting with her cohorts. President Obama didn't drop many g's in
his State of the Union address, but was more comfortable doing so in his energy
speech to college students.
The larger issue is verbal sloppiness. Casual communication is one thing,
but the trend, possibly inspired by social networking, is to be quick and careless.
Here's hopin' the nation's most admired communicators don't overreach for
the common touch - even when seekin' to connect with us regular folk.
Elegant speech is worth preserving. Just sayin'.
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.