On grammatical precision

To think clearly is to write clearly is to speak clearly. When it comes to the faltering standards of English language usage and practice, the evidence abounds and can seem overwhelming. All who engage as teachers, and at any level, really have their work cut out for them. All writers and speakers everywhere take their places on the front lines of this struggle simultaneously as well, providing examples for better and often worse. The importance of the power to say what you mean, to persuade, to re-enforce (not to mention to use poetry for higher ends) has remained constant. Meanwhile its practice languishes in a downhill slalom course of slang, jargon and emoticons, with who -knows-what at the end. But we can all guess and we often do.

Any attempt (like the above) to even engage such a discussion, and the one making these points is seen as an old fogey, a stickler, a fuddy-duddy, a mossback - or even worse: uncool. Fortunately, UGA history professor Jim Cobb is worried by exactly none of this name-calling, or sticks and stones:

On a broader scale, the practice of breaking sentences down into an organizational schematic--think about dissecting a frog absent the upchuck factor--was a vital step in the process of teaching students not just how the parts of speech function within the sentence but how sentences were to be constructed so that the writer or speaker's meaning was clearly and correctly conveyed. Admittedly, it was a tedious, time-consuming task for students to perform and for teachers to grade, and it also required not just an understanding of the parts of speech themselves but a disciplined faith in the importance of using them properly. Hence, as we moved into the post-structural age, in which all forms of communication were valued equally and self-serving clichés such as "thinking outside the box" conveniently devalued many of the traditionally most challenging aspects of the teaching and learning process, critics of diagramming began to ask "Why do we place such a great emphasis on diagramming? I remember it being a great source of frustration for me in school. And I don't want to pass that on to my children."

God forbid that we subject our little darlings to anything that might prove challenging, and therefore frustrating, to them--and, ultimately, us. Besides, reasoned another skeptic"If the goal is communication, why does the student have to know that what he is saying is a noun or verb, etc. . . . If a student can properly write a sentence, why does he have to know all of the parts of that sentence? I just don't get it."

Compelete with answers to that question and diagrammed sentences. Thanks, Dr. Cobb.


Diagramming sentences was one of the least enjoyed things I was asked to do in high school - and most essential. Take it from the ol' Bloviator, who knows a thing or two about expressing oneself with precision and force.

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