NOT all “g”s are the same. There are two kinds—the hard “g” and the soft one.
Hard “g” is articulated from the back of the throat. Words like giggle and giddy, give and govern are all produced with a hard “g.” Then, there’s the soft “g,” produced with the mid-section of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. The effect is akin to a “j,” as in jump and joke.
Even though I had been a one-time student of phonetics in the university, I don’t quite remember the “hard” or “soft” differentiation—shame on me!—until I got acquainted with Peter Selgin, an American writing teacher and author, some years back through the Gotham Writers Workshop. I had never come across such a name before and promptly sent him an email with that gentle enquiry. “It’s like gin with a soft ‘g’,” he explained.
Our gentle soft “g” (soft “g” for gentle) seems not to be the chosen “g,” however, in my numerous encounters with these three words: gesture, gesticulate, and gibberish. With a hard “g,” they sound, well, terribly hard and terribly off.
The first time I had heard gesture mispronounced was a good 10 years ago at a Toastmasters event at the Raffles Town Club. The word slipped out from an elegant, sophisticated banker type who sat to my right. She stood up to share the importance of guess-chers, as she guess-ticulated to make the point.
As recent as this past Monday, the instructor leading my orientation class of some thirty-odd students at SHATEC made a similar point about guess-chers when we played a “Describe the Shapes in My Slide” game.
A volunteer would come forward to describe a group of carefully arranged shapes (triangles, tubes, circles, squares) and their orientation vis-a-vis each other to the class without hand guess-chers, while the class tried hard to follow and draw them to specs on a sheet of blank paper.
The next volunteer would do the same with a different slide of shapes, but this time, he could direct the class with hand guess-chers. And thanks to the gesticulation, more of us were spot on in our sketches.
So, the next time we’re up against the words gestures and gesticulate, and gibberish, let’s remember the soft ‘g’—the ‘g’ that gives us gentle and gin and giant.
I invite you to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any word ideas you’d like to share.