Monday, September 7, 2009

Diagram This!

I received a letter from a college friend a few months ago – not an e-mail or other electronic communiqué, but a real, hand-written letter. As always when I am the lucky recipient of a letter, I am struck by the rarity of written correspondence between friends these days – and few things are more cheery than a letter in the mail – so I decide to turn over a new leaf and begin writing at least one letter per week. As could easily be guessed, this grand plan lasts about as long as most January 1st resolutions. Most often not even one letter is written. (As a side note, for those of you who have read David McCullough’s fabulous biography of John Adams, wasn’t that one of the most endearing things about Adams? His repeated vows to improve himself by rising early to read the Bible, for example, followed by a lament the next day that he slept late. How human. What a great skill McCullough has to bring Adams to life and reveal not just the passion and brilliance that made him integral to our country’s independence, but the frailties and vanities that make him just like the reader. But, I digress . . . the point being when you fail to live up to your own standards or carefully planned goals, remember John Adams – it’s as good as thinking of ‘girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes’.)

Back to the letter, my friend revealed the she is home schooling her son and consequently brushing up on her sentence diagramming skills. What a great method to use to teach her son grammar! He’ll definitely be a step ahead - and speaking of sentence diagramming, have your read this quirkly little book?

If you're a word buff, you'll probably read Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog in one sitting. The author, Kitty Burns Florey, takes an upbeat and funny look at that staple of grammar school English classes until the Seventies - diagramming sentences. I know some people found diagramming tedious or even unbearable, but I loved it - it was like a big puzzle. Thinking back, it was like Sudoku with words - every word has a place and it's up to you to figure out where it should go and if one word is misplaced it can adversely affect the placement of the remaining words. But, when you get them all correctly diagrammed, you can step back and breathe a happy sigh for a job well done! My small college (which was until a few years ago known as a girls school, but that's a topic for another day . . .) still required diagramming for all freshmen - I probably should not admit that because when blogging I just write whatever I'm thinking without much regard for the proper rules, but rest assured I could do better if I needed to (or should that be 'if I needed so to do'?!).

At any rate, if you love words, grammar, and books about words and grammar, you'll enjoy this book. And, if you've been out of touch with friends for a while, consider setting aside a few hours for letter writing . . . and once your letters are finished, you can have some fun diagramming them!


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