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G Whiz - Peter Funt

In a recent speech, President Obama said that without a new energy policy, "Folks will keep on makin' conventional cars." Better vehicles already exist, he said, adding, "We don't have to create somethin' new."

Golly g. Is the president makin' the trend, or just followin' it? It's hard to tell, but Americans really seem to be enjoyin' droppin' their g's.

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' and 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'.

Peter Funt is a writer and public speaker. He's also the long-time host of "Candid Camera." He may be reached at www.CandidCamera.com. This column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.