As a reporter for many, many years, I have had to decide over and over and over again whether to “clean up” quotes. I nearly always did. I would reproduce a quote phonetically only if there was some point to be made by doing so. My reason? Nobody – not you, not I, not the Queen of England, always speaks the Queen’s English as decreed in the grammar books.
And in my opinion, Americans are among the worst “offenders.”
I’m not saying some Americans don’t “talk pretty.” When I was 18, working at Tower Isle Hotel in Jamaica, I fell in love with an airline stewardess from Memphis, Tennessee because I was absolutely beguiled by her “Southern drawl.”
But I wouldn’t say English grammar is Americans’ strong suit. Not white Americans, not black Americans, not Hispanic Americans – not Americans of any ethnic or regional origin, or any social or economic class.
Down here in Central Florida, the past participle is virtually a thing of the past. “Should have gone” is very often replaced by “shoulda went.” Double negatives abound. The final “g” on those “ing” words gets no respect. And even on television, where the anchors are supposed to be educated, I frequently hear them violating conventional grammar with such quaint constructions as “between you and I.”
So I was amused when I read in Yahoo News this morning that the Associated Press is being accused of “racism” because a reporter left off the final “g” in quotes from the president’s address at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual awards dinner in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.
Here’s how AP quoted the president:
“Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes,” he said, his voice rising as applause and cheers mounted. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.”
African-American author Karen Hunter complained on MSNBC the next day that the news service was racist to call attention to Obama’s dropped “g’s.”
I don’t know why the AP reporter decided to leave off the “g’s” in part of the president’s quote. He might have been trying to illustrate Obama’s facility with African-American dialect.
But if that was it, I have to smile.
Who in their right mind thinks African-Americans are unique in dropping those pesky “g’s”? Have they ever listened to Texas Governor Rick Perry?
Indisputably, there is a linguistic form known as Ebonics, which is favored by many African-Americans, especially when talking among themselves. But complainin’, “grumblin'” and “cryin”” ain’t it, brother.
If AP was trying to be racist, as Ms. Hunter claims, they did a mighty poor job of it.