Where are the ‘g’s?


Although I teach fifth grade now, I spent the first 20 plus years of my educational career as a Speech/language Specialist.  I know a lot about helping people to speak clearly.  Every day now I talk to my students about the importance of articulating accurately. I tell them that they need to think carefully before speaking, in order to organize their thoughts.  When they begin speaking, I remind them that they need to open their mouths widely to let the sound out, and they need to pronounce every sound.  Come on, I say, don’t you want to make a good impression on the people who are listening to you?

So as I listen to the current crop of politicians on TV and the radio, I have to wonder:

Where are the ‘g’s?

I hear a variety of Senators, Congresspeople, governors and candidates talking about  ‘reg’lar folks thinkin’, workin’ and prayin’.   Some of these people no doubt, really did grow up in the country and really did talk that way around the kitchen table.  But I believe that by the time these men and women have graduated from major Universities with degrees in law, economics, business and public policy, they have learned how to speak like educated people.  It isn’t that hard to upgrade your pronunciation when speaking publicly.  So when the Harvard educated, raised in Chicago President of the United States starts dropping those final ‘g’s and using words like “folks”, it just makes me cringe. How phony can you get?

I’m not sure exactly when it started, but somehow it has become an accepted belief that in order to lead in this country, a person has to sound like “a regular person”.  It is important, it seems, to have a certain amount of “aw, shucks” homegrown appeal.  Somewhere along the line, American popular culture decided that we need our leaders to be no smarter than we are.

I am completely unconvinced of the wisdom of this belief.  I know that we have a long history of believing that anyone can become president, that everyman has a chance to rise to the top and lead in this great democracy.  We love the Abe Lincoln log cabin thing.  But may I point out that Mr. Lincoln spent a great deal of time and effort in improving his language skills. He prided himself on his extensive and ever growing vocabulary, and he worked hard to say each word accurately.

It seems to me that we would want the people who make the most important decisions about our lives to be educated, intelligent and thoughtful. These are the men and women who make the laws. They run the show.  And let’s face it, they have made enough of a mess already.  The idea that a whole bunch of reg’lar folks are in charge of one of the world’s key economies does not make me sleep better.  I don’t want people with no more brains that I have to be the ones asking the questions or giving the solutions.

We have had some recent (and current) examples of politicians who clearly are poor speakers because they are (how shall I put this?) poor thinkers.  You can all think of at least a dozen of them, with six on each side of the aisle.  They are ill-informed and impulsive.  They say whatever thoughts careen through their heads, and for the most part, they express those thoughts awkwardly.

This is not a good thing.

So I come to my inner wish.  I wish that those who have worked hard, earned degrees from our great Universities and worked their way to the highest levels of government would once again start speaking as if they are worthy of our votes.

Ladies and gentlemen on the campaign trail: please, please put the ‘g’ back on the end of ‘workin’ and ‘prayin’.  Any day now, the rest of us will be ‘votin’ and this educator will be paying attention to the impression that you give.

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