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Need I Draw You a Picture?

October 6, 2008

This is tremendous fun. Kitty Burns Florey, the author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog (the best, and possibly only, book about diagramming sentences), has noticed Sarah Palin’s special relationship with the English language.

In an article for Slate, Florey takes a crack at sentences from Palin’s interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson. The results aren’t pretty, even if Florey’s lines are, as always, impeccable.

Florey turns, for instance, to Palin’s oft-repeated meditation on Vladimir Putin’s rearing head:

It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where—where do they go?

And generates the following diagram:

081001_GW_sentenceDiagram.gif

Impressive, no?

But for me, the most interesting part of the article is this bit of Florey’s own thoughts on the value and usefulness of sentence diagramming:

One thing we can’t learn, of course, is whether her words are true or make sense. Part of the appeal of diagramming is the fact that just about any sentence can be diagrammed, even when it is gibberish. Cats chase mice and Mice chase cats present the same kind of entity to the diagrammer. So does Muffins bludgeon bookcases. If it’s a string of words containing a certain number of parts of speech arranged in reasonably coherent order, it can be hacked and beaten into a diagram.

Which makes the inescapable conclusion about Palin’s speech habits when she’s not extensively and elaborately scripted, as in the Couric and Gibson interviews, either tragic or terrifying.

(Thanks to Joe.My.God for the link.)

(And cross-posted to the Composition Practicum.)