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CMS: The Sentence
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Just what's so special about it, anyway?


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49:31 minutes (23.77 MB)
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For writers, the sentence is the construction site. It's where you put on your hard hat and do the work of fitting and refitting, polishing and sanding, until to have something that is ... you know what? This sentence has gone on way too long.

Sentences are still the basic unit of communication for all of us, unless it is early in the morning, in which case grunts and monosyllabic utterances are acceptable.

If we think of someone as well spoken, chances are good that he or she is speaking in complete sentences. Even most jokes depend, to some degree or other, on the sentence to carry their meaning. Sentences can have beauty, and they can also be quite ugly.  One could argue that it is less and less necessary with each passing year to write good sentences in order to have literary career. So today, on the Colin McEnroe Show, we bring together three people care passionately about the strengths and weaknesses of sentences in the English language.

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Listener E-mail from Michael

The sentence that immediately springs to mind for me is: Marylou was a pretty blonde with immense ringlets of hair like a sea of golden tresses; she sat there on the edge of the couch with her hands hanging in her lap and her smoky blue country eyes fixed in a wide stare because she was in an evil gray New York pad that she'd heard about back West, and waiting like a long-bodied emaciated Modigliani surrealist woman in a serious room. - Kerouac from the first page of 'On the Road' I had remembered this as the opening sentence, but in fact it is not. I read the book twenty years ago and still remeber this line. Great show.

Facebook Comment from Michele

I wanted to let you know how much I really enjoyed your show today. It was a pleasure to listen to your guests as they discussed language and the written word; though I must say I find myself going over and over my comment before I can commit to sending it!

Facebook Comment from Emily

interestingly enough, there is another writer with the last name lutz, william lutz, who writes about the importance of originality and clarity in the written word, though not necessarily at the sentence level--at the word level... his work on "doublespeak" ("pavement deficiencies" = potholes, etc.) is pretty awesome. he even received the 1996 george orwell award for distinguished contribution to honesty and clarity in public language... i make my students read him.

Listener E-mail from Chris

A prior caller spoke of her professor at UNC-Wilmington who wrote a book on the structure of the English language. Could it be this gentleman: http://www.uncw.edu/english/facultystaff/veit.html ?
And, more pertinently, do I need to put the question mark at the end of the prior sentence?

Listener E-mail from William

I'm listening and enjoying the show today, thanks.