Friday, February 27, 2009

Stein: Passionate About Punctuation

Did you know that the computers of the C.I.A. use some form of sentence diagramming in order to sort through emails and the like?

The really cool artwork below is a 2007 installation at the Steven Wolf Fine Arts Gallery of Nicholas Knight’s Sentences:

I’ve been playing with sentence diagramming the last few months. It’s even more fun than Sudoku. Now, instead of doing a couple Sudokus at bedtime, I diagram a couple sentences. There’s even a program that will let you diagram sentences: SenDraw

I did not understand grammar when it was explained to me. I got A’s, but I truly didn’t understand it until I took German.

Now I can’t get enough of sentence diagramming. It’s beautiful! I had no idea how cool it was!

And I’m really not crazy! Gertrude Stein said:

"I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. I like the feeling the everlasting feeling of sentences as they diagram themselves."

imageShe wrote like she was diagramming a sentence, LOL! Once you get the whole diagramming-sentence obsession, her prose makes a little more sense.

Y’all know how passionate I can get about punctuation. It’s so beautiful! It can say so much! It can also do much damage, LOL. I am not real fond of comma-ridden prose.

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."

image I’m never going to get that image out of my head!

But she was passionate about grammar, and I think that's cool. Grammar and punctuation are all part of the beauty that is the written word.

So how do you feel about punctuation? Grammar? Diagramming sentences? Ever think a question mark looks odd? And what do you think Stein would think of the way we use punctuation today? :-) ;-) :-p

32 bonus scribbles:

Kath Calarco 2/27/2009 06:18:00 PM  

Punctuation can stifle my writing at times. I especially get stuck on semi-colons. I think they look great like this ;) though. ;) lol

I'm going to check out the sentence diagramming link. Last time I did one was in fifth grade, back in the Jurassic age. ;)

Georgie B 2/27/2009 08:19:00 PM  

I get like, stuck you know, on the proper usage of commas.

Also have that problem with semi-colons; colons; question marks paired with exclamation points; and periods....

Edie 2/27/2009 09:28:00 PM  

I wish there weren't rules about when to use commas. We can hear commas in our mind. At least I do. I don't know if they're right, but they sound right to me.

Charles Gramlich 2/27/2009 09:44:00 PM  

I think you need chocolate. Step away from the diagramming pencil.

writtenwyrdd 2/27/2009 09:45:00 PM  

Not only chocolate but Prozac! I hate you. Now I know how everyone who laughingly complains about my amusing time wasters feels. And I'm ripping you off for a post to share the pain!

Robin 2/27/2009 09:54:00 PM  

I've never diagrammed a sentence. (I can't believe I'm admitting that in public.) Do I have to hit myself over the head with my laptop as penance?

Bevie 2/28/2009 08:21:00 AM  

I got all A's in grade school English, too. Now I can't figure out how and when to use a colon or semi-colon. As for commas, I use them a lot, and then I delete them afterward.

And then I put them back.

And then I delete them.

Ad nauseum.

Janna Qualman 2/28/2009 09:07:00 AM  

I don't know what diagramming a sentence means. Could you tell us? Is it too in-depth a thing for a blog post?

Janna Qualman 2/28/2009 09:08:00 AM  

Or... maybe that's why you gave us the link...

Just had that thought. ;)

Pink Ink 2/28/2009 11:04:00 AM  

I took one class of sentence diagramming as an English major, and that was enough :-).

Merry Monteleone 2/28/2009 11:18:00 AM  

Ah yes, I remember sentence diagramming.... luckily I was good at it, because my kids get to do it in school now... but they don't do it quite the same way. They do a story web and they do these plot circles (wonder if there's aliens involved there)

They still have to know the essentials that diagramming teaches you, though.

I, myself, love commas. You can hear the pauses and rhythm of the language with commas. I use too many semi-colons, though, and it's a sure sign I need to simplify my sentences.

Melanie Avila 2/28/2009 11:49:00 AM  

I've been wondering lately HOW to diagram sentences. Like you, I always did well in English and with grammar, but I can't remember how to do it.

Maybe an example?

lainey bancroft 2/28/2009 05:50:00 PM  

I agree with, Kath, and, Edie, and Charles; and for what it's worth, I think writtenwyrdd might have something with the Prozac suggestion...

Janet 2/28/2009 07:45:00 PM  

German and French taught me to really understand grammar, too. And seeing as I majored in them, thinking grammatically is like breathing to me. I don't need to do the diagrams; I can feel the bones of the sentence as is.

I love beautifully constructed, properly punctuated sentences, the way an architect appreciates a building where everything is put together just right. And if that sentence is made of marvellous words on top of it all... ahh. Like a gourmet meal.

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:07:00 AM  

Oh, Kath, I LOVE semi-colons! They're the best! And em-dashes! Orgasmic!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:08:00 AM  

LOL, Georgie! Commas are what got me started on my road to obsession with punctuation.

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:09:00 AM  

LOL, Edie! That was, originally, the ONLY rule about commas. Now, not even the "experts" agree on the rules of comma usage. Style serves clarity first, always!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:09:00 AM  

Charles, I ALWAYS need chocolate!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:10:00 AM  

LOL, Written! I wonder if they have chocolate-covered Prozac? Robin? Do they? I think the person who invented it would make a fortune!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:10:00 AM  

Oh, no, Robin! But it is fun. Kinda like Sudoku!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:11:00 AM  

Hah! Bevie, I do the exact same thing! Ad nauseum!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:11:00 AM  

Oh, Janna, really?! Okay, definitely! Give me a week. :-)

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:12:00 AM  

A whole class, Jewel? How fun! Although I get your pain. I remember there was this class called Shenkerian Analysis. It was a bit like diagramming sentences, except... much more annoying!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:13:00 AM  

Yummy, Merry! I use way too many semi-colons, too. I think they are beautiful. They're my favorite punctuation mark, followed by the colon and the em-dash. Then the period, the comma, and the rest.

Yummy. :-)

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:14:00 AM  

Okay, Melanie, you got it! Next week, I promise!

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:14:00 AM  

LOL, Lainey! I think she does, too! :-)

spyscribbler 3/01/2009 12:15:00 AM  

Oh, Janet, and in German, everything is so orderly! I love it! Everything makes sense! It is beautiful!

Dal Jeanis 3/03/2009 02:29:00 PM  

Semicolons are simple. There are two proper ways to use them.

First, suppose you have a list of complicated items, where some items in the list might have imbedded commas. Set off the list with a colon, then use semicolons to separate the items --

Things To Take Camping: dry towels; a canvas tent; firewood, tender and matches; cookware; fishing tackle, poles, line and hooks; snake bite kit and other health aids; food and water; whatever else you might need.

Second, suppose you need to link two complete sentences that are very closely related in meaning. Maybe one is an example of the other, or explains the other in some way. These have to be complete sentences, where a period would work, but you want them closer than that. You can connect them with a semicolon --

Bill had forgotten both the food and the matches; he was an incompetent camper.

As far as foreign language teaching grammar -- it probably isn't until they have to study a foreign language that most English-speaking people understand the reason that grammar exists. The grammar of English is spotty at best, filled with silly exceptions and special cases. Like substituting the past tense of "wend" whenever you need the past tense of "go".

I go.. I went..

spyscribbler 3/03/2009 06:09:00 PM  

Dal Jeanis, that's a great explanation. I found a style book that had a third way... and I have to tell you, it's odd and I've never seen it before. Although, since then, I've seen it done a few times. Rarely.

It suggested that you can use a semi-colon to replace repeating verbs. Something like:

The boy aimed for a kiss; the girl, for a getaway.

(Bad example. I'm not good at coming up with examples!)

Dal Jeanis 4/17/2009 02:21:00 PM  

Ah, yes. In that case, the sentences are so closely related that one uses parts of the other to make itself complete.

gig 3/11/2010 09:17:00 AM  

I agree that I never really understood English until I studied a second language. For me, it was Spanish. And like you, I love diagramming, and find it a very valuable skill, especially as an editor. But, you really can't make a sound argument that you're not crazy by comparing yourself to Gertrude Stein. :)

Natasha Fondren 3/11/2010 09:58:00 AM  

LOL, you're right! I suppose I can't, LOL. Well, then, at least I can make the argument that I'm not alone in my craziness!