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Neil Gorsuch Has An Affinity For The English Language

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Judge Gorsuch's affinity for language - even for a judge, as Nina said - also caught the eye of Ben Zimmer. He writes about language for The Wall Street Journal. Zimmer told us that in one such case, Gorsuch pulled out a tool that's mostly used by linguists and middle schoolers.

BEN ZIMMER: Well, it's called a Reed-Kellogg sentence diagram, which used to be taught in schools up through the 1970s or 1980s, when sentence diagramming fell out of fashion.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Judge Gorsuch found it useful as he tried to untangle a particularly confusing statute.

ZIMMER: Quote, "any person who, during and in relation to any crime of violence or drug-trafficking crime" - etc., etc., etc. - "shall be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of not less than five years."

I've taken out a bunch of things in the middle of that, and it's still confusing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: If you're over the age of 30, you may have forgotten what one of those sentence diagrams looks like, that cascade of dotted and smooth diagonal lines. Need a visual aid?

ZIMMER: If you consult the official judicial opinion on this case, you will see this sentence diagram right in there. And it's the only case that I've ever heard of where a sentence diagram has showed up in a judicial opinion in that way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Ben Zimmer of The Wall Street Journal. And you can see that sentence diagram on WEEKEND EDITION's Facebook page. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.