Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Way They Used to Do It

Back in the days before everybody started worrying about letting little Susie and little Johnny "expressing themselves" and to hell with spelling, grammar, punctuation, parts of speech . . . you know all that stuff us old people learned back in those decidedly non-progressive, not-up-with-the-latest-cutting-edge-educational-theory days in school, we had to employ books like the one I talked about yesterday. The Writing Handbook. [How would you like to diagram that sentence?]

So pedestrian it is too. What's this I see? The book divided into sections . . . and the first, lo and behold, "Parts of Speech." Before you're two paragraphs into the book, you have been exposed to names of all the parts of speech, all nine of them (including "exclamatory words"--what I learned and maybe you, too, as "interjections"--and "dummy subjects") plus gerunds, infinitives, and participles. By the time you've gone two pages, all these have been defined with examples:
A dummy subject (expletive) is the word it or there used simply to indicate that the subject is coming afer the predicate verb or to avoid awkward constructions.

It was plain that he was distressed.
There are no cars available.
 To tell you the truth, I don't remember these "dummy subjects"--they were just pronouns to me, I think--but the point is, before you started building with words, you learned about the bricks.

Next a section on "The Sentence." Of course. Also "Punctuation" and "Spelling." Yep, a whole chapter on correct spelling of words, a subject today that has become optional. It begins with, guess what?--Spelling Rules. Yes, rules. Here's the first sentence of this section: "Practically every rule of spelling has exceptions. But the rules given in this book hold often enough to make them worth your while." The very next sentence says "When in doubt about the spelling of a word, consult a dictionary. Only the dictionary habit ensures correctness."

This kind of thing would be considered radical off-the-charts today. Did you get that part about "correctness"? The notion that there is a right and wrong way to do this. Good Lord! What are we coming to?

[One more entry coming on this remarkable book.]
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