A Grammarian at Slate.Com Tries to Diagram a Muddled Sentence of Sarah Palin’s—And Fails

At Slate.com, a grammarian (Kitty Burns Florey) tries her hand at deciphering, through traditional diagramming, Sarah Palin’s peculiar way of putting together “sentences.”

In the example below, Florey can’t do it:

From the Charlie Gibson interview:

“I know that John McCain will do that and I, as his vice president, families we are blessed with that vote of the American people and are elected to serve and are sworn in on January 20, that will be our top priority is to defend the American people.”

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:

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.

I thought Florey’s conclusion about Palin’s words and phrases being “push buttons” was a keen insight.

Simply inserting (randomly) words like “family” into a Palin “sentence” can probably illicit the Pavlovian response she desires of her base audience.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to A Grammarian at Slate.Com Tries to Diagram a Muddled Sentence of Sarah Palin’s—And Fails

  1. Charlie Stemp says:

    She is using all the right words for the people she is addressing. They don’t care what order they’re in or whether they make sentences, they sound warm. She’s just not very good at it — yet. McCain picked her to connect with the people who won’t connect with him. Tony Blair was very good at it; speaking slowly with long pauses but when you read the transcripts you realize that he is not saying much.

    How could a person in middle America not like: families, blessed, American people, serve, sworn, defend, and just to make sure, American people again.

    You might as well try to analyze the sentences of a snake oil salesman; or mine.

  2. James Herbst says:


    For you, a lover of diagramming sentences.

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