Magazine September 21, 2020, Issue

A New Socratic Dialogue: Part 1 of 3

A student attends a virtual class as limited in-person learning resumes at Wilson Primary School, Phoenix, Ariz., August 17, 2020. (Cheney Orr/Reuters)

It’s hard for us now to understand just how obsessed English speakers were with grammar in the 18th and 19th centuries. The educational system was so preoccupied with it that the lower schools acquired the name grammar schools — a term that reached the height of its popularity in the 1830s but over the next century fell off dramatically. In 1966, the president of the Linguistic Society of America wrote that “little room has been left in the English curriculum for the study of grammar per se.” The medieval curriculum — which consisted of grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the trivium)

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Bryan A. Garner — Mr. Garner is the author of The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

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