A grammar book in grammar school?

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In Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur for 12/14/2009, Danae resists grammar instruction:

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

I'm not sure how long it's been since Mr. Miller was in a classroom, but the idea that grammar-school students would actually have a "grammar book" to open is much more incongruous than the idea that one of the students would use cultural relativism as an argument to avoid opening it.

The thread continues in the strip for 12/15/2009:

And 12/16/2009

And finally (so far), the strip for 12/17/2009:

These strips are mostly about generational conflict, snarky kids, the paradoxes of cultural relativism, and so on — "grammar" is just used as an emblem of the aspects of school that students don't like.  But it's interesting that "grammar" retains this symbolic value, even though it's been many decades since it had any significant role in the curriculum.

Things were different 200 years ago, when Combe and Rowlandson made Dr. Syntax the first-ever popular cartoon character, or 50 years before that, when William Bowden wrote

… generous minds, with native freedom born,
Disdain the thraldom, and the tyrant scorn.
Or when releas'd from grammar's servile fetters,
Still learning loathe, and dread the smart of letters.

But if there's an American grammar-school classroom these days where the students have a "grammar book", I'd like to hear about it.

[Note for British readers: I gather that in the U.K.,, the term "grammar school" refers to a class of secondary schools. The history of usage in the U.S. is more complicated, but this description more or less accords with my experience, in that the primary school I attended for grades 1-6 was called a "grammar school" (though we were taught no grammar there):

Primary schools were established for children approximately five to nine years of age, corresponding with grades one through four. Intermediate or grammar schools were developed for students ten to fourteen years of age, corresponding with grades five through eight. By 1900, these two programs were united into a single, eight-year elementary school, also referred to as grammar school, which became the most prevalent type of school in the United States.

Similarly, the American Heritage Dictionary's entry for elementary school says "The first four to eight years of a child's formal education. Also called grade school, grammar school, primary school." And Encarta's entry for grammar school says "same as elementary school". The entry in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary gives a UK definition ("a state secondary school to which pupils are admitted on the basis of ability") and a US definition ("another term for ELEMENTARY SCHOOL").]

[Update — another in the series:



  1. Andrew Clegg said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 10:46 am

    The COED's UK definition isn't entirely comprehensive (hah!) since there are non-state-owned grammar schools, e.g. this one where I went.

    As I remember it, the story we were told behind the nomenclature was that they traditionally taught Latin grammar (and in our case, still did). Any English grammar they taught was incidental.

  2. Dan Lufkin said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:04 am

    If Guildford had actually been an English grammar school, wouldn't Mr. Clegg say "the one whither I went"?

  3. Doc Rock said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:19 am

    When we lived in Bavaria 1986-1988, we sent our son to the local German school. As a translator and language teacher (Japanese, Korean, and Chinese), married to a Romance languages major, I, and my wife, were delighted that our son was being taught grammar (German, i.e., Hoch Deutsch) rigorously in a primary school. Having taught adults "Effective English Communication" for government employees, I have always been surprised at how little Americans know about their language except intuitively. I grew up in a small, industrial town in South Jersey, but had had four years of Latin and one of Spanish, in addition to intensive English grammar study with my martinet, prescriptivist Latin teacher–for whom I thank the heavens.

  4. Amy Reynaldo said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:20 am

    My son's fourth-grade reading curriculum doesn't have a separate grammar book, but a surprising amount of grammar lessons are built into the worksheet packets. Compound and complex sentences, simple and complex predicates, and comma splices are things I didn't explicitly learn about in school, not even in high school.

    Presumably the Illinois state standards (for the NCLB-mandated standardized tests) include this degree of grammar learnin' for fourth-graders, because they pretty much teach nothing that's not going to be on the tests.

    I'm not sure if being able to label the different breds of predicates is actually useful for anyone other than grammar teachers and linguists—I sure haven't needed that skill as a writer and editor.

    [(myl) I can't speak to its utility, since "simple and complex predicates" is not a distinction that I'm familiar with.]

  5. Craig Russell said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:34 am

    My wife is a sixth-grade English teacher here in Los Angeles, and she gives them grammar instruction out of a grammar book.

    [(myl) Interesting! In a public school? What's the book?]

    I used to teach Latin at a private school in North Carolina, and although I had no interaction with the elementary school students or teachers, in middle school they had a grammar book and grammar lessons in 6th-8th grade. I suppose this is skirting the edge of what is "grammar school" (it's not a term I use myself), but the definitions given above take it through the 8th grade.

  6. shynar said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    I was taught Russian grammar from 2 grade up to 10th grade. My knowledge of Russian grammar still helps to learn other languages, to speak and write Russian well.

  7. Richard Howland-Bolton said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:39 am

    @Andrew. Will Americans get the joke in your first sentence?
    In the UK many grammar schools became comprehensive schools in (IIRC) the late 60's and early 70's.
    Then there is the the curious reversal of status of public schools in crossing the ocean.

  8. Cecily said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:13 pm

    Schools that cross the ocean? I'd like to have attended one of those.

    (It put me in mind of Prof Pullum's "syntactic disquiet" earlier today:

  9. Nathan said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

    I went to school in the 80s, and I remember specific grammar instruction from at least three classes. In third grade we learned the traditional parts of speech, subjects and predicates, sentences vs. fragments, and the three forms of the verb: present, past, past participle. In seventh grade we discussed subject-verb agreement, comparative and superlative, diagramming sentences, and a long list of traditional prescriptive shibboleths. In eighth grade Honors English we worked most of our way through Warriner's English Grammar and Composition—an actual "grammar book", although it was junior high, not "grammar school".

    Now my own third grader is bringing home homework on parts of speech, as well as subjects and predicates. I see no decline in grammar instruction.

  10. Mark P said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

    When I googled "grammar school" I learned that they were originally (five hundred to a thousand or so years ago) schools to teach Latin and later Greek and languages, so I began to get an understanding of why they are called grammar schools. I infer from that little bit of information that perhaps English grammar was not formally taught at the time of the original "grammar schools" and that as the schools gradually changed to include subjects more like those taught today, the name did not change.

    I remember diagramming sentences and identifying the various parts of speech, but I don't remember having a textbook. Maybe the teacher had the book.

  11. Doreen said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:27 pm

    I went to school in the rural Midwest in the '70s and '80s, and we had grammar instruction from grammar textbooks. This was part of "English class" in junior high and high school, and there were at least worksheets in elementary school on topics like underlining the subject and verb and putting parentheses around prepositional phrases.

    Of course now I can't recall the titles of the textbooks at all, but I'm almost certain it was a series published by one of the big textbook publishers.

    The main focus in these classes was always on getting the answer that matched the one given in the answer key in the Teacher's Edition.

  12. Mabon said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    The problem which I see is that of adults not understanding how to write. Nobody seems to have a clue as to what a sentence is, and don't get me started on apostrophe abuse…
    There is a generally low level of comprehension of how English works. If you use the word "subjunctive", people look at you like you're a nut.

    I'm not talking just about email. I see formal letters that my own teachers would have returned for a re-write. Accountants seem to be less skilled at writing, which may be understandable, but I have also seen poor grammar from attorneys as well.

    My sense is that there were very different standards in the US regarding the importance of mastering English composition, as I have noticed that writers with poor skills have gone through the same school system; likewise with those whose skills are good (anecdotally and decidedly not scientifically speaking, of course).

    My own experience includes 10 out of my 12 years of pre-college education spent in public schools, with two years of private school in the middle. English instruction was better and somewhat more rigorous in the private school.

    But I did have grammar instruction in public "grammar" school, which included full coverage of the parts of speech, and diagramming sentences. Perhaps it stuck with some of us more than with others.

  13. Rob said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:53 pm

    The public school district I attended while growing up in Oregon required at least a grammar unit every year as part of an English class. I mostly remember high school where some teachers used a grammar book but others gave handouts/worksheets or 'minimally intrusive' daily lessons. However, most of that was prescriptivist drilling or decontextualized parsing–none of which was of any use to me (at least not at the level of conscious control of style to suit different writing and speaking contexts). What I gathered about grammar was that words have individual forms and a string of them that starts with a capital letter and ends in a period is a sentence, and choosing certain words or punctuation in certain places resulted in errors.
    I wasn't taught the hierarchical structure of phrases, clauses, sentences, and discourse (not to mention phonemes and morphemes or anything of grammatical usefulness (i.e. descriptive)) until I studied linguistics as an undergraduate.

  14. Craig Russell said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 12:55 pm

    She teaches at a charter school (that is, a school that is privately owned and operated, but which receives government funding, is required to meet state standards and take state standardized testing, and for which the students pay no tuition).

    The textbook (which she happens to have a copy of at home, so I can look at it right here) is published by Holt, and it is called "Literature and Language Arts: Warriner's Handbook". The book is specifically written to teach the California Standards on which the students will be tested.

    Its main section claims to cover "Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics", and has sections covering the parts of speech, the phrase and the clause, complements, agreement, using verbs/pronouns/modifiers correctly, capital letters, punctuation, spelling, and "common errors".

    The next section covers "Sentences" and has units on writing effective sentences, and sentence diagramming.

    There is also a section in the back (which I imagine nobody looks at) that briefly discusses the history of English, the connection to Proto-Indo-European, Old, Middle, and Modern English, dialects, the question of a "standard" variety of English and formal vs. informal registers, etc.

    This all seems fairly similar to the materials and topics taught at the NC private school where I used to work.

  15. Nick Lamb said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:11 pm

    I went to another of the UK's grammar schools, in fact another of its Royal Grammar Schools. In my case it was state owned and thus charged no fees, but it was run by independent governors and accepted pupils from a local catchment area based on academic ability.

    We were taught Latin grammar, and pupils with a gift for languages would give a prepared speech in Latin at the end of the school year. But I think any teaching of grammar in other languages including English was much less formal, certainly not presented as a list of explicit rules we were expected to memorise or even incorporate into our own writing. The closest I remember was a class in which were were asked to write a story using only the present tense, but I believe it was a device to exercise our creativity and I don't recall anyone going through the results with a red pen looking for verbs that were in the wrong tense.

  16. Lucy Kemnitzer said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    When I was an English teacher I had access to a bunch of grammar materials. My favorite approach was a "writer's manual" that taught grammar as a means to the end of effective writing. Unfortunately, many of the lessons in it were derived from the same old fallacious rules that used to infest my grammar book when I was a child. So I had to work around the junk to get at the good stuff.

    In the same largely disused curriculum closet I found some lessons on diagramming sentences and tried them out to see if they actually helped my students understand the workings of the language better but I didn't think it was very helpful.

    My students were at-risk high school students, most more or less bilingual, mostly truncated in their use of anything but the narrowest street slang. I blame the discontinuation of serious bilingual education, resulting in little direct instruction of English as a second language and no development of the home language.

  17. A said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    I finished ninth grade at a public high school in New England in 1999, and my honors English class used a grammar textbook. It was small, red, hardcover, and was printed in the 1970s if memory serves.

  18. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

    I definitely remember specific grammar instruction, with no fewer than two books over the years, though ironically it was actually later in my scholastic career. In 7th grade our English class was "Grammar", and focused as I remember almost exclusively on grammar; our teacher used a grammar book. In 9th grade, again, we were taught some grammar. This wasn't the whole course, more of a review during the first part of the year, but there was a grammar book we used to read and do exercises from. This part of my schooling would have been in the late 90's.

  19. John Cowan said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    All of this shows that generalizing about U.S. education, or even U.S. public education, is hopeless, because it's fragmented among 15,000 local school boards each with their own notions of curriculum, and nobody is keeping track of overall trends. When we add private education (about 6% of the student population), there are some 30,000 schools, each with its own rules.

  20. Dan T. said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

    The kid in the comic strips seems to have a "culture" that combines the worst elements of left-wing political correctness and right-wing dogmatic fundamentalism.

  21. Zwicky Arnold said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    To Nathan and Craig Russell: search on Amazon.com under "John Warriner" for some of Warriner's books (intended for various audiences), and look under "English Grammar and Composition" for a number of warm recollections of this volume.

  22. John Lawler said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 3:14 pm

    I graduated grade 8 of a No. IL parochial school in 1956, a couple of years after Jim McCawley did so (from a different No. IL parochial school), and I (and I'm morally sure he) used a series of Jesuit-produced textbooks (always called "English books", btw, rather than "grammar books") named Voyages in English. The books in the series taught what I later learned to call "traditional English grammar", with lots of technical terms (many of which I later learned to correctly ignore or misuse).
    The series is still around, and is still billed as a "Writing and Grammar Program". Samples of the books show that the grammar on offer is a little better than what I learned, but still not very accurate. And still catechetical, without explanations or even good descriptions. And dead boring now, as it was then. Too bad.

  23. Liz said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

    English Grammar schools did indeed start out in the 16th Century to teach Latin grammar at the point where the English language was being heavily influenced by Classical sources.. However, the real significance of Grammar Schools came about following the 1944 Education Act. The 11+ examination was a very selective exam taken by all children in the State system. The top few went to Grammar Schools; there was at some times a middle strand of "central schools" or "technical schools" for the next layer down, and the majority went to "Secondary Moderns" – usually pretty awful. This very elitist system was dismantled in the 60s and replaced with non-selective Comprehensive Schools. This bit of social engineering had quite a long lasting effect. – a free education at some very good schools. And we were taught English grammar – at my school, anyway. The idea of Comprehensives was to level all State schools up to Grammar School standards; for a while, the reality was a levelling down. There are still a few elitist, very academic grammar schools which compete on equal terms with the best Public Schools, but most are now fee paying schools.

  24. tablogloid said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 4:03 pm

    I was educated in the English school system in Quebec, Canada, from 1953 until 1970. We were taught English grammar with corresponding text books from grade two until the end of high school. When entering first year university in 1966, all students were obliged to take an English grammar and writng course (Eng. 211) regardless of what faculty they chose to enter.

  25. Old Grumpy said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

    In the UK in the 1960s, I was taught English grammar from about the age of 8 to 13. This was supplemented by Latin and French to the age of 16.

    Grammar doesn't seem to have been taught in schools for years. As a lawyer who trains up junior lawyers (some of whom have PhDs), I find myself pointing out what I perceive to be mistakes, eg in a letter today:

    Mr X requests that the total sum of £Y is BE paid to him…

  26. egaliede said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

    I went to school in Ottawa, Canada, and we used grammar books up until 10th grade (I graduated two years ago, so presumably they still use them). I can't remember any names, but the series of books we used in high school had us learning about sentence fragments, split infinitives (oh yes), and subordinate clauses through example sentences that we had to correct or parse.

    One sentence continues to stick in my brain: "This red plastic moose wallet reminds me of home."

  27. Nick Lamb said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

    "This very elitist system was dismantled in the 60s" except in a few parts of the country. Those are the places where this 1960s meddling was unsuccessful and the kids still go through an "elitist" selection process which ensures nobody is stuck with the impossible task of teaching the full ability range which occurs in a natural population of teenage children.

    The reality in the Comprehensive system continues to be "a levelling down". In fact it's worse than that. You see while I went to an "elitist" grammar school my sister (now a lecturer at one of our universities) went to what you've termed a "Secondary Modern" but which went under various other names while she was there. Her education was actually much better than at most Comprehensive schools because her teachers weren't trying to cope with a minority of very capable children – those had all been sent to my school or others like it. So for her difficult subjects like mathematics were covered at a pace she could cope with, and she left with excellent grades albeit in a narrower range of subjects.

  28. Morten Jonsson said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 4:34 pm

    My English teacher in eighth grade, in the mid-seventies, diagrammed a complicated sentence on the blackboard once, just to show us he could. But that was the only diagramming we got. It had evidently become one of those valuable skills that no one needs anymore, like shoeing a horse. We did learn grammar, though; I can recognize the passive voice when I see, it, which I gather is a rare ability these days.

  29. greenlight said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 5:12 pm

    When I went to school in the 90's here in Sweden we learned Swedish grammar, but mostly as a precursor to familiarise ourselves with terminology etc in order to be able to be more effective in our mandatory 2nd (english) and 3rd (german/french) language classes.

  30. kmurri said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 5:42 pm

    My fifth grade teacher (60s) taught grammar rather intensively. For an extra credit assignment, she had us name all the parts of speech The Jabberwocky. One girl came pretty close to getting them all. I think I managed about 60%. Interesting challenge.

  31. kmurri said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 5:43 pm

    . . . parts of speech IN The Jabberwocky.

  32. Spell Me Jeff said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 6:03 pm

    Good heavens! I think we can all agree that thorough socialization into the corporate complex requires the ability to generate prose consistent with standard written English.

    Is there a shred of evidence suggesting that formal instruction in grammar during one's schooldays actually leads to this ability?

    My impression is that the stronger correlation (by orders of magnitude) is with the reading habits one develops during those years. Grammar study in the teenage years can help one to give labels to things that are already known, and perhaps to refine a few inconsistencies (provided one has a significant grasp in the first place).

    But you're not going to reduce functional illiteracy by opening up a grammar book, any more than you're going to rescue the titanic by reading a treatise on knots.

  33. Josh said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

    My wife teaches 5th grade, and she teaches grammar, though perhaps not in the rigorous sense you are referring to. She teaches her students parts of speech, basic sentence structure, and punctuation. All of which is reinforced by lots and lots of reading.

    Freshman year of high school was the only time I remember being taught grammar in a formal sense. By the end of the year, everyone in the class had to complete a series of some 20-odd grammar units covering about everything you can imagine. It's where I learned all those rules that require asterisks now that I have a more nuanced view as an adult:
    Don't ever split an infinitive*
    Sentences should never start with And, But, etc.*
    No dangling participles*
    Never end a sentence with a preposition*

    * kinda

  34. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 6:31 pm

    @Spell Me Jeff: Formal grammar instruction is not enough, but I do think it's often helpful. Would you also argue that foreign language instruction is pointless, because knowledge of the Foo language correlates better with having grown up in a Foo-speaking country?

  35. Mr Fnortner said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 6:37 pm

    Now that foreign languages have been mentioned, my own experience has been that native-English speakers whose command of English grammar is sound make better learners of other languages. There's nothing quite as exasperating as trying to teach both a language and two grammars to the same student.

  36. John Cowan said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 7:41 pm

    Old Grumpy: The letter writer probably doesn't control the subjunctive ("that the total sum of £Y be paid to him") any more, since it's obsolescent in BrE except in ultra-formal contexts like this one. AmE, conservative as usual, preserves it better: "I suggest that John play the king tomorrow" is good AmE, whereas BrE would normally say "should play the king", with unstressed "should".

  37. Liz said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

    Teaching grammar-as-rules may be problemmatic but grammar as naming and understanding structures seems to me useful. The 60s pedagogical assumption that everything comes through reading seems to me problemmatic. It does for some, maybe most, but unfortunately not all. I get to teach people who have come through 10+ years of compulsory education who do not have a clue about the difference between a full stop and a comma.

    On the other hand, second language teaching that focused heavily on grammar (French, when I was at school) has left me with a fairly good understanding of the structure, but not great at speaking and listening.

  38. Mabon said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 10:53 pm

    @ Mr Fnortner: "…native-English speakers whose command of English grammar is sound make better learners of other languages. There's nothing quite as exasperating as trying to teach both a language and two grammars to the same student."
    I agree. I have found it to be extremely important in learning a second language to have a good understanding of English grammar. Similarly, I have learned a lot about English grammar as a result of studying other languages, which is a bonus not generally mentioned.

  39. andrew c said,

    December 18, 2009 @ 11:31 pm

    Slightly differently, in Australia every Grammar school I have seen is an exclusive private one. And by exclusive I mean based upon ability of one's parents to pay vast sums. Their most taught subject would appear to be one that generates a sense of entitlement in the students and a direct entry into the upper stratum of corporate life.

  40. Aviatrix said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 4:28 am

    I took a Russian course in the 1980s, and helped out a classmate who was struggling with the material. He had graduated with excellent marks from an American high school, but I quickly discovered that the reason he couldn't make his adjectives agree with his nouns, or choose the correct noun case, was that he did not know what a noun was.

    I spent hours in Canadian grade school, circling nouns, underlining verbs and drawing boxes around articles and squiggly lines under adverbs. I had to memorize and parrot on exams lists of relative pronouns and prepositions.

    It fascinated me that my classmate could speak coherently and write essays in his native language without knowing what the components are.

  41. Liz said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 9:31 am

    Andrew C: What was interesting about the selective 11+ system is that in my experience Grammar schools fostered a sense of intellectual superiority which might well lead to a sense of entitlement, as opposed to economic power which was in itself entitled – if that makes any sense. They were of course predominantly middle class in ethos, but not in intake. Theoretically, a non-selective system ought to be more egalitarian, but largely the disadvantaged stay disadvantaged.

  42. Stephen Jones said,

    December 19, 2009 @ 3:47 pm

    They were of course predominantly middle class in ethos, but not in intake

    Exclusively middle-class in intake they weren't, but predominantly certainly in any catchment area that had a middle class.

  43. Nmissi said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 4:33 am

    I spent much of the late seventies and early eighties learning "grammar" from an assortment of "literature and language" textbooks- the sort of thing wherein one reads a short story or a passage from a longer work, and then grammar activities are constructed from the reading. In seventh grade, however, we had a marvelous little book on the Greek and Latin roots of English words; that was my first introduction to linguistics. There were opening chapters on historical linguistics, and there was a whole new vocabulary to digest- I had never encountered terms like "tense" and "mood" outside of Spanish class before that. That same year we diagrammed sentences, and it was as if a little lightbulb clicked on for me, "So this is how it works!" As if I was able to look at language, at this thing I did subconciously a million times a day, in this whole new way. That year is one of the more positive memories I have of my schooling. I only wish I knew the name of that textbook, so I could obtain it for my children. Their "language arts" classes seem to have been reduced to little more than dull worksheets about the parts of speech.

  44. Laura said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 6:45 am

    Can someone explain what you mean by 'diagramming sentences'? I'm interested because I assume you don't mean the phrase-marker trees of syntax. ('Scuse my ignorance – I went through the UK (state) school system in the '80s and '90s and don't recall getting any explicit grammar instruction. Still, I am now literate regardless of this neglect. The first-year linguistics students I now teach tell me they got 'quite a lot' of grammar at school.)

  45. Liz said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 8:30 am

    Stephen Jones: You are right, of course. Careless choice. Still, I grew up in a poor area of a Northern city, and a fair number of us went to Grammar Schools. The effects of this were quite interesting for a while, both in public life and the arts.

  46. Liz said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 8:42 am

    Diagramming sentences: I've been a bit confused by this, too. What we did was a lot of "parsing". As someone else, said, labelling the different parts of speech, identifying clauses etc. The thing I hated most, which has turned out to be the most useful skill in adult life, was summarising – which doesn't really count as grammar, but it does help if you can grasp what a sentence is.

    The pedagogical shift, in my amateur understanding, was away from top-down teaching to "facilitating" – children would figure out the structures for themselves, that grammar was "innate". There is a bit of truth in this, but I think there is a bit of a problem with "getting" the structure if you cannot name them.. But apparently I count as one of the Zombie teachers.

  47. Graeme said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 8:54 am

    Such a flurry of reminiscence!

    In the comic strips, Danae disses grammar; it's her rebellion against dictation. She is made out to be a sophist, until the final strip, when she undermines all culture as arbitrary power. Normally the cartoonist's role.

  48. fs said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 1:14 pm

    I'm a bit surprised that nobody mentioned Danae

  49. fs said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    Whoa! Now you're really toeing the line of offensive language!!

    Is it just me or is this a bit odd? It seems to me that "toeing the line" is being used here as "pushing the boundaries", whereas in fact it generally means exactly the opposite — "staying within the boundaries", or "conforming to the rules".

    … doesn't it?

  50. fs said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 1:16 pm

    (Er, ignore my first, abortive comment above, if you will. Dunno how I hit "submit" accidentally.)

  51. zmjezhd said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 1:47 pm

    Can someone explain what you mean by 'diagramming sentences'?

    It was something developed in the second half of the 19th century in the USA. The most influential book on the subject was Graded Lessons in English: An Elementary English Grammar Consisting of One Hundred Practical Lessons, Carefully Graded and Adapted to the Class-Room by Brainerd Kellogg and Alonzo Reed (link). The link provided is to a digitized copy at Google Books and may not work in the UK. The Gutenberg project or archive.org may have copies, too.

    [(myl) There's some additional discussion, with (occasionally still valid) links, in "Personal and intellectual history of sentence diagrams", 10/12/2004.]

  52. Aaron Davies said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

    i don't know what schools you're familiar with, but the three elementary schools i went to (two years each, one public and one private in durham, north carolina, one public in bowling green, kentucky) definitely taught grammar (from third or fourth grade on, iirc.–before that it was mostly just reading/phonics). the textbooks were generally called either "english" or "language arts" and covered parts of speech, conjugations, irregular conjugation patterns, sentence structure (simple/compound/complex/both), etc., as well as spelling, punctuation, and certain style issues (e.g. paragraph structure and the five-paragraph essay). this went on at least as far as ninth grade english, when we were still talking a bit about the more complicated conjugations (e.g. future perfect), though the focus was definitely on literature by that point.

  53. Aaron Davies said,

    December 20, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    oh, this was 1986-1992. (well, 1985 if you count kindergarten, which did include learning the letters.)

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