Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Isn't This Magnificent?


The New York Times ran a piece, "Taming Sentences," today about diagramming sentences.* I wonder when they stopped teaching kids how to do this? Long ago, I'll bet. Guaranteed: a vast multitude out there has not the foggiest idea what "diagramming sentences" even means. And the majority of that extremely vast multitude probably doesn't know what a sentence is either . . . but I digress.

Of course, since I'm as old as dirt I remember quite well learning how to diagram sentences when I was in school. I still have English textbook we used. It's called Writing Handbook (Chicago, 1953), and it's written by a couple of Jesuits: Michael P. Kramer, S.J. and Charles W. Mulligan, S.J. [Now in a second completely revised edition, would you believe?] After getting lost in this book for a few minutes, I decided I have to blog some about it, so stick around for some really interesting chatter about this. (And from where I sit now, I don't see how I can possibly restrict myself to just one blog on this subject of this book. So be forewarned; if you don't want to listen to anybody talking about a book called Writing Handbook, skip a few days.) I wish I could remember exactly what year in school we used this book. My guess is around middle school years. I do remember that we had to write all the time in English class. We did one-, two-, three-paragraph exercises. We did longer essays, and usually the subject was assigned.

But I am digressing again. What I really wanted to do when I started was simply to point out the magnificence of the diagrammed sentence above. It's from a 1904 Henry James novel entitled The Golden Bowl. Here is is straight up:
The spectator of whom they would thus well have been worthy might have read meanings of his own into the intensity of their communion — or indeed, even without meanings, have found his account, aesthetically, in some gratified play of our modern sense of type, so scantly to be distinguished from our modern sense of beauty.It is taken from a Henry James novel. I've never read one of these, actually, but if this sentence is representative, I don't want to.
I think I could probably diagram sentences again after just a little brush up. I remember being pretty good at it, but I was good at English, period. It was just never hard for me, and I could not understand how it could be hard for anybody.

*Actually it was the second article on the subject. The first, "A Picture of Language," is here.
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