October 21, 2011

"I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences."

"I suppose other things may be more exciting to others when they are at school but to me undoubtedly when I was at school the really completely exciting thing was diagramming sentences and that has been to me ever since the one thing that has been completely exciting and completely completing."

Diagram that! is the implicit challenge from Gertrude Stein – whose sentences are devilishly devoid of commas.
Stein hates commas passionately. I wish she were just a little more fond of them, LOL. Even I have a nagging desire to insert commas in her prose!
Commas are servile and have no life of their own... what does a comma do, a comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma.
She uses them instead of question marks, though, because she hates them even more! She says the question mark looks like "a brand on cattle."

74 comments:

ALH said...

I can vividly remember diagramming sentences in 5th grade for Sr. Louise. Good stuff!

Shouting Thomas said...

Gertrude Stein, one of those incredibly great writers that nobody actually wants to read.

Just remember: There is no there there.

Now, you're ready to impress people at a party.

She's the Frank Zappa of writing. Every musician, and rock fan feels compelled to proclaim that Zappa was a genius, but nobody actually wants to listen to his music.

Proclaiming the greatness of Stein and Zappa proves you're an intellectual.

The titles to his songs are, however, great. I suggest reading the titles and ignoring the songs.

m stone said...

The fact that language is so incoherent the fact that people no longer diagram sentences is due to.

Coketown said...

Gertrude Stein gets her new iPhone.

I diagrammed sentences in Catholic school and didn't do it again until a linguistics course in college. They were similar experiences. Very boring, but probably there to give humanities majors the same sense of consistent but trite accomplishment math majors get when they solve problems.

AllenS said...

Suck on a comma, Gertrude.
...
--

Coketown said...

And going through my university's English program, I never met a single professor who thought Stein was anything other than a stammering retard. She's venerated because she owned the saloon that all the great ex-pats hung out at in Paris. She's the kid everyone pretends to like because her parents are never home and has a fridge stocked with soda and a downstairs with a Super Nintendo AND Sega Genesis.

William said...
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DKWalser said...

For a couple years I was an English major -- until I married and started worrying about how I might put food on the table -- and I enjoyed diagramming sentences. It was relaxing work, a lot like working a sudoku puzzle; I didn't find it exciting. I feel sorry for anyone whose life is so dull that diagramming a sentence would qualify as exciting.

Which reminds me of a story: When I was in high school I told my uncle I was going sky diving later that summer (subsequent events conspired to make the sky diving adventure impossible). My uncle asked why my friends and I were going sky diving. I told him it was for the excitement. My uncle, who had jumped out of perfectly good airplanes during the war, replied: "Excitement? When I jumped out of a plane, the guys shooting up at us provided the excitement. The jump itself was peaceful." Everything's relative.

William said...

Try again --

Kids are not taught to diagram sentences anymore(adverb), even in the best of schools. That's why young people today can't write worth a damn. They don't know grammar, and they don't know how the parts of speech (What's that?) work together.

It's a shame.

ricpic said...

Gertrude Stein stepped off the Oakland trolley
And fell into a void;
She shoulda stayed on the IRT
And got off at toid and toidy toid.

Damon said...

Interesting post. Earlier I was thinking about how sentence diagraming must be used in Siri to breakdown the different permutations of saying the same thing.

traditionalguy said...

New Testament Greek must have been fun written in all capitals with no punctuation and no spaces.

I guess if you want to hear the message, then you will work at it.

Roger J. said...

Clearly diagramming is an experience long since removed from students in modern academia--My favorite class in the 7th Grade was Mrs Zink's english class where we spent most of our time diagramming sentences. Plus, as Titus was say, Mrs Zink had a great rack.

Roger J. said...

oops--was = would

Scott M said...

She uses them instead of question marks, though, because she hates them even more!

Being Gertrude Stein, she would prefer a question martha to a question mark anyway, wouldn't she? I'm sure there's a masculine angle that can be teased out of her hatred of commas. It probably has something to do with that little phallic sarif.

Scott M said...

Re; Zappa

The titles to his songs are, however, great. I suggest reading the titles and ignoring the songs.

Ditto. Zappa is to rock what the Church Of The SubGenius is to religion.

Erik said...

Commas and question marks are tools, and should be used as needed. While I'm sure it's perfectly feasible to craft a cabinet without a table saw, for instance, not only will the work be more difficult but the end result not nearly as true. An unwillingness to use available tools speaks more to misplaced self-confidence than actual skill.

Roger J. said...

Erik: enjoyed your comment and agree with most of it--having watched the dude on PBS that works with 19th century tools, I think there is a certain art in using hand tools.. I am guessing you are an outcome guy rather than a process guy :)

showhank said...

http://1aiway.com/nlp4net/services/enparser/

You might enjoy this.

ricpic said...

A serif could always be misinterpreted as a hanging chad and then LOOK OUT!

traditionalguy said...

Am I the last lover of the semi-colon?

It is a compromise mark. Half comma and half colon; Sort of transpunctuation.

Ann Althouse said...

It's tedious putting a question mark where the words have already made it a question. I like a question mark where it transforms the words into a question. I like a working question mark, not a slacker, conventional question mark.

Roger J. said...

what Trad guy said--the semi-colon may be the last bastion of those that learned three rules of punctuation.

Chip Ahoy said...

I expected diagraming wasn't being taught when we ended up with slogans like Think Different.

Roger J. said...

Professor--as a matter of interest, am I to assume that your 1Ls are to take a course in legal writing? I think that is a good thing, but would love to hear your take on it.

Roger J. said...

I suspect, Professor, that you are not a math major. I can assure you that learning to use the chain rule in calculus is equally exciting as the use of LaPlace transform in differential equations.

Clearly different strokes--albeit with the same outcome.

J said...

The older parsing mostly replaced by syntactical analysis.

But interesting little-knwon factoid--Miss Stein and her beloved Alice were....nazi sympathizers! (ie Vichy), at least for some time. Althouse kind of gal.

And Shouting OneNote pretending he knows something about music again. Predictable.

Carol said...

she owned the saloon

Don't you mean salon? or did she own a bar?

Scott M said...

Am I the last lover of the semi-colon?

Nope. I use it, albeit sparingly, in fictional narrative. I don't think I've ever used it in dialog. Think about how a sentence with a semicolon would sound...

Roger J. said...
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Roger J. said...

Carol: the difference between a salon and a bar is probably a function of the clientele--as a matter of preference I prefer saloons over salons. the clientele is more straightforward.

Roger J. said...

ScottM--I think in the case of a semi-colon it would be a visual thing--agree that using a semicolon on spoken language would not be particularly significant.

Scott M said...

Every once and a while when going back to edit, I'll see a couple of sentences that are too long and can be combined down into a single sentence with a semicolon. It's always like finding a little Easter egg. I consciously try not to overdue it, though.

J said...

The Alt-tards on ..punctuation. Wow. Deep. Stick to the meth labs and yr favorite occultist books, dreck.

Roger J. said...

ScottM: IIRC the semi-colon is used to tie together two independent clauses. And is also used to follow a conjunction (eg, however) when followed by another independent clause--and finally used when the author has put forward a string of statements wherein the last one separated by a semicolon from the preceding statements. Works in the written format; however, less so in the the oral form where it would be impossible to discern the difference.

ricpic said...

They use the semi-colon a lot in the NBA; it's called traveling.

Roger J. said...

ricpic: thats a damn good visual--thanks

Don't Tread 2012 said...

Scott M. said

"I consciously try not to overdue it, though."

I think spoken language and written language are related. For instance,if I want to add punctuation to a spoken sentence, I might choose to do it this way.

Is this what you mean?

Shouting Thomas said...

J, you seemed to have lost that old creepy spirit for a while. The insults, racial and anti-semitic slurs just don't have the same bite.

I haven't been able to even excite your usually excitable wratth.

Until now.

I was worried about you. I thought that you might be slipping into the final stages of syphillis, but I see you are in remission.

Live for today! La-la-la-la-la-la, Live for today!

edutcher said...

Aaaahhhh!

Of all the things to hit us with on a Friday afternoon.

How about some story problems, too?

And what Allen said.

Roger J. said...

Clearly diagramming is an experience long since removed from students in modern academia--My favorite class in the 7th Grade was Mrs Zink's english class where we spent most of our time diagramming sentences. Plus, as Titus was say, Mrs Zink had a great rack.

And you were always asking for her help in understanding where your sentence structure went wrong.

And hers went right.

Roger J. said...

ah edutcher--you are on to my game--it was great when she leaned over me.

Roger J. said...

gave new meaning to the term "direct object(s)"

J said...

Touched a nerve. Back to yr evinrudes, yokels.

J said...

Shouting Yokel---you're the diseased illiterate derelict here, trash .Not to say congenital liar. And I know perfectly well who youve been chatting with. Yr new queer LDS palsie's messages won't help out when your case goes to court. Comprendes, basura

Roger J. said...

J: its comprende. Take the infinitive comprendar, to understand. drop the ar ending and replace it with e. that makes it imperative in the second person.

this isnt hard Its the imperative form. does not require an s at the end

Grow up asshole--you are a real piece of shit Concentrate on learning at least one language reasonably well--you havent demonstrated that capability well.

Roger J. said...

basura is of course spanish for trash--but a more grammatically correct form would be (in formal spanish: tu eres basura. thats a complete sentence.

Roger J. said...
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Roger J. said...

better hurry with your trash talk J--got a 5:30 tee time and not much time to fuck with you.

Conserve Liberty said...

I wrote, in an earlier thread about disposing of a family portrait, that we enjoy having our little inheritances around us and that some day, someone would regret the painting was burned.

My wife, whose grandmother skipped out on her marriage to hang with The Bloomsberries, has a photograph of her infant father being bounced on Stein's knee - the imagination can run free when viewing!!

Grandmother was ruined by a fiduciary who pilfered, then margined her Trust, which calumny was revealed in the 1929 Crash.

Which has nothing to do with scanning sentences (that I recall taught by Mrs. Kingdom in Grade 5) and everything to do with anonymous advantage-taking on a Forum.

J said...

suffer tea-tards,eh fools gladly.

Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh

Roger J. said...

Ahh J: and your incomprehensible entry responds to what exactly? What is it about the english language that escapes you?

Roger J. said...

Quickly son--I got a tee time coming up--say something intelligible

Joe said...

RogerJ said:
"J: its comprende. Take the infinitive comprendar, to understand. drop the ar ending and replace it with e. that makes it imperative in the second person."

I believe the verb is comprender, with an "er" in place of an "ar." Therefore, it is:

Yo comprendo,

Tu comprendes,

El, ella, usted comprende.

So J's usage was of the second person familiar.

J said...

Drug test time, soon Atards

Rockport Conservative said...

Today I ran across and English workbook from 1956. I remember it well. I loved diagramming sentences. I love puzzles, diagramming a sentence is just like a puzzle; putting everything in its proper place. I follow family members, many nieces and nephews, their children and grand children on FB. I cringe a lot because most of them say Anyname and I as an object of the preposition. Am I an old fuddy duddy? It's all I can do to keep from correcting them.

edutcher said...

Roger J. said...

ah edutcher--you are on to my game--it was great when she leaned over me.

I'm sure she warmed your heart.

Roger J. said...

Joe--you are absolutely correct--thanks for setting me straight--but isnt the issue the imperative form of comprender?

Roger J. said...

edutcher: she warmed more than that :)

William said...

Just as a matter of curiousity: has anyone here ever actually read a book by Gertrude Stein or known someone who has?.....I think Gertrude was being cool and ironic with that diagramming sentences obervation. In real life, she probably found working a strap on with Ernest infinitely more exciting than diagramming sentences. Although, to be fair, it was probably more fun than making out with Alice B. Toklas.

Sigivald said...

I never diagrammed one.

Further, just from that sample, I can tell Stein's not that good of a writer.

(Would she have any fame at all today if not for her sexuality?)

(Contra Thomas, I like Zappa and listen to his music voluntarily. The key is that nobody wants to listen to his experimental music. The pop-shaped stuff is fine.)

rcocean said...

Stein was an avante-garde type that influenced others, especially Hemingway.

She wrote stuff, but its rightly been forgotten.

rhhardin said...

Diagramming isn't done because it's not a good analysis.

Open Quirk Greenbaum et all to a random example and try to explain it with diagramming.

I highly recommend that 2000-page book. Take a summer to disabuse yourself of the idea that things are governed by rules that you know.

Utterly at random:

"It is with duration adjuncts that we have greatest freedom to use noun phrase, though for the most part they can be regarded as abbreviated prepositional phrases and can be made more explicit and rather more formal by the introducton of for:

They stayed (for) a while.
They lived (for) several years in Italy.

With or without for, time units can be postposed by round (with years) or through, especially when the reference is habitual:

The Stewarts now stay in Italy { the whole summer through, the whole winter long, the whole year round, all the year round. }

Without a numeral or other quantifier, the for can often not be omitted:

?*He put up the night at a hotel.

But:

He stayed the night at a hotel.

He put up that night at a hotel...."

Their aim is to tease out the real rules. Diagramming doesn't help at all.

Thousands of pages like that.

Quaestor said...

Gertrude Stein's arrogance about punctuation would carry a bit more weight if she written better prose. Unfortunately it was her writing that was weighty (i.e. ponderous), and her objection to commas was mere bitchiness.

Gertrude Stein + Essay = Leaden Drivel

N.B.
Here's another uncomfortable fact of life that makes feminists crazy: A man can gracefully age from a wit and raconteur into a curmudgeon. Women can't do this. They try to be witty and come off bitchy. Then as they age they morph from bitches into batshit crazy cat collectors. Women have never done wit; they don't get it, never have and probably never will. It's hormones or something. Even women who get paid to be witty crash and burn like the Hindenburg every time they attempt the bon mot. Think I'm off my chump, do you? Just listen to Janeane Garofalo for three minutes without chemical protection. Case closed. (BTW, I wonder how many cats Ms. Garofalo owns now.)

Craig said...

I, too, diagrammed sentence after sentence in junior high. I didn't mind it, but I don't know that I got much out of it, either. It was ninth grade Latin that finally -- for some reason -- brought the parts of speech and how they cooperated, together.

[Please note the important comma.]

Craig said...

Please note the important comma.

Come to think of it, I only wish I could have justified a semi-colon, if only to annoy Mme. Althouse. Alas, grammar wouldn't allow it.

wdnelson93 said...

Homeschooling Mom here who made all her kids diagram as part of their grammar instruction. They're teens now, so it's been awhile, but interest was recently renewed when our son's best friend's Mom (who is a H.S. English teacher), as a fun exercise/challenge, diagrammed the first sentence of Dickens Pickwick Papers.

She showed her work to me the next morning in church. Who else can she show it to? I still have it.

If we didn't homeschool I'd want my kids to be in her class. Gotta love teachers who do for fun on the weekend what they do for pay during the week.

rcommal said...

Tools are handy. This doesn't mean each tool is useful in every situation. It also doesn't mean that because a tool isn't useful in every situation, it's not useful at all. Learn how to use tools and when to use them (or not), and you'll go far.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

I've always enjoyed diagramming sentences. I like puzzles and computer programing; diagramming sentences seems to be part of a similar process.

Dr Weevil said...

J keeps saying it's drug test time, but he never tells us what his results were. Of course, it's easy to see why.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

J keeps saying it's drug test time

Well, it if IS drug test time, I demand to be given some drugs to test.

How can I test drugs if I don't have any?? The 1% have drugs....damnit...kick some down!!!

Robert Cook said...

"She's the Frank Zappa of writing. Every musician, and rock fan feels compelled to proclaim that Zappa was a genius, but nobody actually wants to listen to his music."

I think Zappa sucks, outside a small body of his early work with the original Mothers of Invention. That said, Zappa's fans are legion and they are fanatical...and they do listen to his music.

I always preferred Captain Beefheart.

Some Seppo said...

Gertrude Stein eats shoots and leaves.

blake said...

There's a link for "the implicit challenge" but it's broken.