or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, October 03, 2008


I suppose I ought to feel bad for the teachers that had me in their classes in elementary school. I must have been the most dreadful pain in the ass, because though I was thrilled to be learning, I rarely wanted to study what they wanted to teach, and when I was paying attention, I had no compunction about correcting them if they were wrong. (I've since learned to control this anti-social impulse.)

So naturally I ended up studying things on my own, often in class. We had these textbooks full of fascinating subjects, and the teachers would cover only a fraction of it; I made it my mission to investigate all those other fractions. In math, we barely covered interesting things like different bases, so I learned how to count in all the important ones up to 16. In English, I had very little interest in hearing another student laboriously attempt (and, usually, fail) to explain a poem, so I pondered the fascinating mysteries of sentence diagramming.

I don't know why they don't still teach it. It's engrossing. Diagramming lets you peer into the innards of sentences; it's like taking apart a clock to see how it works. (Here's a website that explains the basics of sentence diagramming, but unfortunately doesn't list any examples on any of its pages, making the exercise considerably more difficult than it ought to be.)

Unfortunately, I've forgotten all the fine points--it has been a while--so I was pleased to read this Slate article by Kitty Burns Florey, the author of a book called "Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, which I intend to put on my next order to Amazon. The article analyzes possible vice-president Sarah Palin's dreadful, tortured grammar--worse, almost, than George W. Bush's--as seen through the lens of the sentence diagram. Just look:

That's Florey's version of this sentence,

I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people,

for which there can be no excuses. Palin's a politician. She ought to be able to express herself extempore, and she comes up with babble? That's the output of a woman who was never taught to diagram sentences, or, really, to think.


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