The Angry Grammarian

Sarah Palin, diagrammed

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 4 | Posted Oct. 8, 2008

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I hate sentence diagramming. Sure, it's useful--the pedantic exercise of identifying a sentence's every part of speech and laying it out in the form of a dead tree branch gives each word a raison d'etre.

But that clarity comes at too heavy a price: It forces untold numbers of schoolchildren to hate grammar, thus tuning it out for life and subjecting the rest of us to their subjectless sentences.

But sometimes it's necessary. Like when Sarah Palin is talking.

Don't call me partisan; I wasn't the one to introduce grammar to this election cycle. That was Joe Biden, when he declared famously, brilliantly, "Rudy Giuliani: There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun and a verb and 9/11." Still makes me swoon.

We're too space-limited for tree branches, but we can still parse Palin in last Thursday's debate:

On Obama's alleged tax increase: "That's a lot of middle-income average American families to increase taxes on them."

She gets the subject, verb and object out of the way quickly with "that's a lot." The prepositional phrase "of ... families" modifies "lot," with "middle-income," "average" and "American" all (redundantly, tritely) modifying "families." Now, "to increase taxes on them"? Internally we've got an infinitive verb, a direct object and an indirect object, but what's it attached to? Any antecedent on "them"? Maybe it doesn't hold up because it's based on lies.

Or how about this nugget: "John McCain's maverick position that he's in, that's really prompt up to and indicated by the supporters that he has."

First, minus five points for overuse of the word "maverick." Take out the unnecessary appositives and the sentence starts, "John McCain's maverick position is really prompt"--grammatically diagrammable, but completely nonsensical. "Up to and indicated by the supporters"--connected to what? Is "up" an adverb, a preposition or a placeholder while she figures out what the hell to say? This tree is now kindling.

Maybe she should take lessons from Giuliani. 9/11 didn't get him very far, but at least he's got the parts of a sentence down.

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Comments 1 - 4 of 4
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1. tara said... on Oct 7, 2008 at 04:08PM

“god i loved diagramming sentences.”

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2. sarah said... on Oct 8, 2008 at 07:49AM

“You're not going to give any props to Slate for their bit about diagramming her sentences (October 1)? That's a little lame. http://www.slate.com/id/2201158/”

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3. The Angry Grammarian said... on Oct 8, 2008 at 10:04AM

“Thanks, hadn't seen that yet. We grammarians are all just champing at the bit to take her down.”

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4. slb said... on Oct 9, 2008 at 11:16AM

“Oh, but using good grammar is so elitist and uppity, doncha know? *wink*”

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