So I was one of those kids who actually liked school. I’m no longer sheepish about this; I just did and I feel like that should be ok. I was into all the paper-writing, test-taking (especially spelling tests) and tri-fold-poster-board pimping. The whole bit.
Possibly my favorite activity from my grade school days, however, was DIAGRAMMING SENTENCES. Oh man, did I love that stuff. To be honest, I think it had a little bit to do with the fact that I was good at it and relished busting out a prickly looking diagram filled with predicate nominatives, prepositional phrases and infinitive appositives while the rest of my classmates struggled to plot out “The dog barked.” Look, I was a nerd; I never said I was a nice one. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve since given up pedantry for general enthusiasm.
Anyway, I also liked that sentence diagramming also made me feel like a super-sleuth that had unlocked the code to the English language, which we all know is erratic, illogical and insanely complex. Even the slightly arbitrary diagram symbols themselves felt like a secret that I’d mastered. Take, for instance, the not-entirely-logical contraption that diagrammers invented for gerunds, aka verbs that act like nouns (in the below example, “raising” is our guy):
Silly, right? But it’s kind of fun in a way, too. Listen. Don’t start pooh-poohing this as mundane and unpleasant. People do math equations every day for fun. They buy books for their airplane trips and pedicure appointments, and the real nut jobs enter contests! I’m talking about Sudoku, which (in my opinion) is a completely baffling and frustrating way to spend one’s free time. Why aren’t there books of sentence diagrams for the mathly-challenged population? This needs to happen.
If I can’t have my sentence-diagramming puzzle book, then the Christmas gift I got from my mother is the next best thing. I was completely tickled to receive a book called Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences.
This charming little tome waxes nostalgic about the author’s sixth grade English class, in which sentence diagramming was used as entertainment (entertainment!) by the plucky nun instructor, Sister Bernadette. Oh, bring me back to the olden days where I might find some kindred spirits!
Whoever illustrated the diagrams in the book should be given a medal for some of the more complex sentences and paragraphs represented, the most daunting being a Proustian passage splayed across two pages. It’s like the grammarian’s version of a centerfold. Oooh, baby. It’s also somehow satisfying to see that Proust is equally meandering when diagrammed as when read:
So for the next several months you’ll probably find me brushing up on my diagramming skills and working on my line of puzzle books for the linguistically inclined. Don’t judge me. We all have our things.