Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Dissect Your Sentences


I, like many fellow writers, have come to know a great dislike for grammar dissection (parsing). (I call it "dissection," because the process is as ugly and blatant as the word itself). Somewhat related to proofreading, it is a process that is done to make sure that every word, phrase, and clause is in perfect accordance with the laws of language. How nice. It sounds too much like censorship for my liking. It is a novel concept (one should never overlook proper linguistic structure), but one that seems very arbitrary and subject to far too much over-analysis. Sarah Maludzinski makes a very good point about over-cautious writing in one post. My subjects and predicates might not always agree, but they sure do put up one hell of an entertaining fight on the page.
And isn't that the most basic function of all writing as art? For it to inspire? There might be a few loose technical odds and ends here and there, but who cares anyways? The scholars? Nobody likes the scholars. They're too busy with their heads in books to see that language is about more than purist doctrines of words. Language is not mathematics. If language was mathematics, I might be studying to become some kind of ├╝ber-intelligent, lab-coat-wearing rocket scientist. We as writers resent such branding. So what if I like to write how I speak? So what if I like to say something that others don't agree with or might be offended by? So what? The last time I checked, speaking your mind in which ever fashion you please is not a crime.

5 comments:

  1. For the most part I agree with your argument. Words are words and words have meaning, no matter how many rules they break. Getting too caught up in the mechanics of writing can definatley have a negative effect on the value of the work, as entertainment or information.

    I also really like your personification in the line "My subjects and predicates might not always agree, but they sure do put up one hell of an entertaining fight on the page." It makes a fun visual.

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  2. Yes, I had that phrase cooked up in my head for quite some time, but could never really use it.

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  4. Your comparison of parsing sentences to free speech is really neat because it is definitely an angle I never thought of. While I did enjoy the "subject and predicates" sentence, I loved the way you analyzed the word dissection. Parsing can become tedious and annoying. In short, you have a very intriguing argument.

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  5. I think you make a very good and well-illustrated argument against the over-use of proofreading, parsing, and paying too much attention to technicalities. I do, however, have to respectfully disagree with you. I feel that strongly expressing yourself in a unique, clear voice while remaining within the boundaries of grammar laws is a challenge that forces writers to strengthen their ideas and fine-tune their individual writing style. It takes great skill to follow the rules while still heavily stylizing your writing.

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