Mind your language

Does it matter if Priti Patel drops her Gs?

3 July 2021

9:00 AM

3 July 2021

9:00 AM

In 1923 in Whose Body? we were introduced to Lord Peter Wimsey on his way to an auction where he hoped to buy a Caxton folio from 1489 of The Four Sons of Aymon. But he had forgotten his catalogue, so said to the cab driver: ‘D’you mind puttin’ back to where we came from?’

Lord Peter drops his g’s, as people say, in the manner of the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ aristocracy. I’m not sure who first put that triad of gerunds together and would be grateful for early citations. But that archaic mannerism is unwelcome to some viewers from the lips of Beth Rigby of Sky News.

‘I know some of you simply hate my g-dropping accent,’ she remarked on Facebook. ‘As I’ve said it’s in no way intentional, it’s just how I talk.’ I don’t mind, but I’m puzzled by its origin. Miss Rigby went to a Buckinghamshire grammar school and her mother was a headmistress. Perhaps she hunted or fished.

Others are irritated by Priti Patel doing the same thing. ‘Priti Patel made me want to smash the radio,’ exclaimed someone on Mumsnet, admittedly no downy nest of tolerance. It was suggested to me that it derived from her Ugandan-Indian heritage, but I doubt that. Her grammar school was in Watford, but that is no help.

A C. Gimson’s Pronunciation of English explains the history of the velar nasal sound -ng-. Common in the 16th and 17th century, it became fashionable in the 18th and was then retained as an archaic form of received pronunciation. Meanwhile, in the north-west Midlands, an older pronunciation survives in which the -g is fully realised: singG-ingG. In Cockney a -k may terminate compound words ending in -thing: somethink, nothink. But thing alone ends either in the standard nasal -ng or the curtailed -n.

An opinion survey that the papers lapped up last week purported to discover that pacifically for specifically was our most hated mispronunciation, though it seems more of a Malapropism to me. The survey was uselessly unscientific. The BBC’s top ten complaints about pronunciation are aitch, Clostridium difficile, controversy, Davos, debris, harass, kilometre, Kuwait, New Orleans and schedule. If -ing were a word, it would be well up there.

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