Grammar. Government. How do you respond when I say each of these words?
Many, so it seems, feel irritation, disdain, or boredom at the word, grammar. Some are intimidated at the thought of grammar. As a school subject, grammar is typically disliked. I know. I was an English teacher. Most students that entered my classroom were there only because they had to be. I understand. Yet, there were a few, besides me, who were fascinated by studying the workings of language.
Government, particularly these days, is a word that conjures up even more distasteful feelings. So, why would I put the two together? “The Grammar of Government” is not a title that would attract readers. Admittedly, true. How unfortunate. But I’ve done it anyway, and you are reading this! Let’s see if I can keep your interest. (And if not, “A good day to you!” and “God bless you!”)
Now, really, grammar is very exciting! And government…well, it is an overwhelming topic, but also, oh, so exciting (and intimidating and frightening and dangerous and demanding and so on).
You may only think of “grammar” as “the parts of speech,” um, “How many?” In English we employ and study the eight parts of speech. We observe how words shape phrases and clauses, and how they are structured into paragraphs and whole works of every genre.
Well, actually, grammar is more basic, and every field of exploration (discipline, hobby, or career) has its own grammar. Simply defined, grammar means “the fundamental principles or rules of an art or science.”*1 The rules of chess form the game’s grammar. The grammar governs the game.
We are in an important time to consider the grammar of government. Most likely, you are thinking of politics. Election day is near. Also, today, September 17, is Constitution Day, which commemorates the writing and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.
However, as we pursue the grammar of government, politics is not the place to start. Then where do we start?