The sentences of Sarah Palin, diagrammed.

Language and how we use it.
Oct. 1 2008 7:07 PM

Diagramming Sarah

Can Palin's sentences stand up to a grammarian?

(Continued from Page 1)

I didn't stop to marvel at the mad thrusting of that pet political watchword "families" into the text. I just rolled up my sleeves and attempted to bring order out of the chaos:

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I had to give up. This sentence is not for diagramming lightweights. If there's anyone out there who can kick this sucker into line, I'd be delighted to hear from you. To me, it's not English—it's a collection of words strung together to elicit a reaction, floating ands and prepositional phrases ("with that vote of the American people") be damned. It requires not a diagram but a selection of push buttons.

Granted, diagramming usually deals with written English. We don't expect speech to reach the heights of eloquence or even lucidity that the written word is capable of. In our world, politicians don't do much writing: Their preferred communication is the canned speech. But they're also forced, from time to time, to answer questions, and their answers often resemble the rambling nonsense, obfuscation, and grammatical insanity that many of us would produce when put on the spot.

Yet surely, more than most of us, politicians need to be able to think on their feet, to have a brain that works quickly and rationally under pressure. Do we really want to be led by someone who, when asked a straightforward question, flails around like an undergraduate who stayed up all night boozing instead of studying for the exam?

In a few short weeks, Sarah Palin has produced enough poppycock to keep parsers and diagrammers busy for a long time. In the end, though, out of her mass of verbiage in the Sean Hannity interview, Palin did manage to emit a perfectly lucid diagram-ready statement that sums up, albeit modestly, not the state of the economy that she was (more or less) talking about but the quality of her thinking:

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