Sarah Palin’s English…

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a New York Times article about Sarah Palin’s English…

I’m predisposed to like articles that make counterintuitive arguments. A particularly interesting one recently? A New York Times piece positing that Sarah Palin uses complex, sophisticated language.

To be fair, the author recognizes that most people don’t see Palin this way. But writer Anna North takes both a magnifying glass and a grammatical scalpel to some of Palin’s speeches. Here’s an example:

“Politics being kind of brutal business,” [Palin] said, “you find out who your friends are, that’s for sure.”

Here, “politics being kind of brutal business” defines the circumstances under which the action occurs. It looks like a construction that will be familiar to anybody who took Latin in school: the ablative absolute.

(She then helpfully explains the ablative, which I hadn’t reviewed since my own grade 9 Latin class.)

But I especially appreciated North’s conclusion:

Maybe Mrs. Palin or her speechwriters think the convoluted sentence structure makes her sound smart. Maybe they think it makes her sound heroic, like the orators of the past. Or maybe all those extra clauses are just a really good way to load up a sentence with praise — or insults.

It’s practically the very definition of counterintuitive to compare Sarah Palin to a Roman senator. But it’s worth reading the very brief article to get to Anna North’s superb punchline.