Hugh Lunn says…

In his 2006 book Lost for Words [ABC Books, Sydney] Hugh bemoans the loss of the urban lingo of the 1950s. He opens his chapter on schooling [called ‘Vulgar Fractions’] with the photo of a teacher taking a reading lesson. She is telling the class, “Let’s parse the word ‘heart’ in that sentence.”   The photo also reveals the thoughts of a young scoundrel in the front row, ” Past imperfect, hopeless case, governed by your ugly face.”

Hugh Lunn then starts this  chapter with a section on Rote Learning.

“At primary school you learnt spelling, sums, poems and rules by rote, so you could repeat them off pat. Then you would proudly say: ‘I know this off by heart or I’m word perfect.’

You learned the alphabet and what each letter looked like off by heart : a is like an apple on a twig, a say ah; b is like a bat and ball, b says buh; f is like a feather; i is like a boy with his hat in the air… good girls could even recite the alphabet backwards.

For English grammar you learned rules such as :The verb to be has the same case after it as before it. First person is the person speaking; second person is the person spoken to; third person is the person spoken about. When ‘as’ follows ‘such’ or ‘same’,  the ‘as’ clause is always adjectival. Prepositions govern nouns or pronouns in the objective case. Place, where, time, and when clauses are always adjectival. {Author’s note : I taught the parrots to say, ‘The verb to be and other copulative verbs has the same case after it as before it.’    I don’t think I’d be brave enough to teach that now.}

Transitive verbs were regular. Intransitive verbs were irregular – that is, they changed the spelling with the tense. The transitive verb ‘lie’ in to tell a lie, goes; lie, lied, lied. Whereas the intransitive verb ‘lie’ in to lie down, goes lie, lay, lain. These rules were needed to analyse sentences and parse words. Thus you needed to know an adjective from a pronoun, a verb from an adverb, and nominative case from objective. For example, parse the word ‘heart’ in the sentence : ‘The song filled my heart with joy.’  ‘Heart’ is a noun, third person, singular number, objective case governed by the word ‘filled’.  “The song’ is the subject of the sentence and ‘filled my heart with joy’ is the predicate. If ‘heart’ were in the subject of the sentence,it would be nominative case, instead of objective.

Kids hated this so much that they would parse their schoolyard enemy: Past imperfect hopeless case, governed by your ugly face.”

Thanks, Hugh Lunn.

Share