Here is a silly little piece about my evolving relationship with English grammar:

4 thoughts on “#languagechanges

  1. I liked your riff on grammar and word usage. … I never wrote a word until my Freshman English comp course at Keene State when I was age 23– no quick or shopping notes, no diary entries, no letters, no writing of any kind. And yet I was a pretty good writer immediately. My first essay got an A+ and the teacher told me in a private conference that I had a natural talent for writing. I published the second short story ever wrote. And so forth. So, I asked myself: How could a non-writer be a good writer right away (write away?)? I have two answers to this question. The first is obvious: I’d been an obsessive reader since childhood. The second answer is not so obvious and may not even be true, but it’s best I can come up. I was only an average student in grade school at St. Joe’s in Keene. But there were two areas of study that I was good at and that for some reason I enjoyed doing: English grammar and, especially, diagramming sentences. I loved diagramming sentences. I didn’t know it but I was teaching myself the geometry of language. When finally, at age 23, that I started writing, my brain had already laid out the basics: I was ready.

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    1. Thanks, ernie! I would say that you are a “pretty good writer”! (I think that you are one of the best American authors of all time, not merely the quintessential New England novelist you are often taken to be.) I, too, just loved diagramming sentences, and I even owned a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style that I would pour over in my free time. When I was a senior in high school, my school had one funky little contraption that was connected by a phone to a real computer at the Univ. of PA. It could type out a program by punching holes on a narrow paper strip that one would feed into the machine, put the phone in the jack, and then wait for the Penn computer to run the program. I tried to write a program (in Basic!) that would diagram sentences using Chompsky’s transformational grammar. I never got it to work!


      1. I’m impressed that you could program. I don’t have the head for it. … I think it should be “pore” over, not “pour” over. I could be wrong.


  2. Haha. Yes, “pore”! Ah, homophones!
    Yes, we felt very cutting edge learning how to program in 1970. I used that program when I was a sophomore in college, examining the distribution of “men/de” clauses in Homer’s Iliad, in an attempt to demonstrate that the “Catalogue of Ships” in Book II was a later addition to the text. But, although I wrote up my results in a little note, no one ever followed up on that line of inquiry. And that was it for my career as a programmer! (To my surprise, my only child ended up going to CalTech and now is a professional programmer!)


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