Novelist Marc Acito offered a perfect elocution of National Public Radio snobbery on Thursday's All Things Considered. In defending the defensible cause of proper English, Acito equated Palinesque populism with a complete lack of respect for the intellect. Acito even sang (badly) from My Fair Lady to illustrate his point:
You see, My Fair Lady is based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and both pieces explore the ramifications of learning how to speak properly at a time when elocution was valued as a symbol of education and upward mobility. Emphasis on the was.
Listen to Franklin Delano Roosevelt say the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and it's almost inconceivable that ordinary Americans trusted someone who sounded like Thurston Howell III from Gilligan's Island. We are now in an age when Sarah Palin speaks to a quarter of the electorate even though she talks like she's translating into Korean and back again. Even the rhetorically gifted President Obama has felt compelled to drop his G's while trying to sell health care reform.
I myself have heard college graduates say things like, me and him hung out, because apparently, he and I sounds pretentious. Well, me thinks you just sound stupid.
Nowadays, sounding folksy has become more important than sounding educated. As Eliza's teacher Henry Higgins says: Use proper English, you're regarded as a freak. But our country's biggest competitors are learning proper English and, judging from all the Indian call centers, learning it quite well. Our country was built by people striving to move up, not dumb down. So, on this Eliza Doolittle Day, perhaps we should all take a moment to think before we speak.
Sarah Palin may sound folksy, and she certainly drops G's, but she hardly sounds like she's mangling a Korean translation. And perhaps she speaks to more than a "quarter of the electorate" when the McCain-Palin ticket won 46 percent of the vote.