James Lipton, Don’t Quit Your Day Job

A few days ago James Lipton drew media attention for “taking his political consulting a bit more seriously” than usual during an interview on the Laura Ingraham show:

“After Ingraham played a clip of Obama’s 2011 “shake it off” speech, Lipton said, “I wanted to write a piece some time ago … called ‘The Disappearing G.’ It was inspired more by George W. Bush than by anybody else, where suddenly this man who comes from a [inaudible] upper-class family and comes from an upper-class world, but the G in -ing vanished — I’m goin’, we’re talkin’. And other politicians have taken it on. Obama does it there. I don’t like it anywhere. If a fella is educated and all his life has been saying, ‘We’re going to succeed,’ he doesn’t need to say, ‘We’re gonna succeed.’” (Politico)

As my title suggests, I think James Lipton better leave this one to the linguists. 


#1     People drop their G’s all the time. It’s a widely available feature of most English dialects. Obama isn’t pretending to be someone who drops his Gs, he’s someone who has it available in his “repertoire” and uses it.  I also find it amusing that Lipton, who had just referred to a grown man as a “fella,” could go on to criticize Obama for being too folksy. 

#2     Performance.  Lipton was juxtaposing quality acting (i.e. “not pretending, embodying”) with modern politics (circus-y, cheap, pretending).  Point well taken.  But I would say that Obama’s “G dropping” could never compare to Romney’s “cheesy grits” gaffe.  But the point here is this: communication is a fundamentally social behavior. We also don’t talk the same way all the time, it depends on who we’re with.  It’s entirely possible (and proveable) that politicians drop their Gs whenever they’re campaigning south of the Mason Dixon.  But I would say a better use of our time is not listening to how they’re saying it, but what they’re saying.  

#3     Dialect performance in acting.  Horrible.  I think when it comes to dialect performance, there are few actors that pull it off well.  And some of it’s just oversight: He might not mind when Salma Hayek plays a Puerto Rican, but I certainly do.