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Stanley Fish Lists the Best Sentences in the English Language



Literary theorist and columnist Stanley Fish has listed and described what he regards as the five greatest sentences ever composed in the English language. Among them is this selection from John Bunyan's 1678 work The Pilgrim's Progress. In my limited experience, I cannot think of any craftsman of the English language greater than Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote as though he was sculpting words from marble. And a selection from Nabokov is properly included in Fish's follow-up post in which the professor judged from reader-submitted suggestions.

What do you think is the greatest sentence in the history of the English language?

Link (and a Follow-Up) | Screenshot: edited image from the first edition

//’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.//
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"He was a tall, shambling gink with no chin. But to make up for it he had an adam's apple that looked like an elbow. A fine example of young louthood."

-Lawrence Sanders, Caper
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"To gild refined gold,
to paint the lily,
to throw perfume at the violet,
is just fucking silly.
Or something like that."

(Tim Minchin, in "Storm", check it on Youtube ;-)
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Just read this last night, and thought it was elegant.

"But tonight the pumpkin had turned to a coach and six. Terry O'Sullivan was a victorious Prince Charming, and Maggie Toole winged her first butterfly flight. And though our tropes of fairyland be mixed with those of entomology they shall not spill one drop of ambrosia from the rose-crowned melody of Maggie's one perfect night."
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Or, from the same story:

"Almost was she pretty now, with the unique luminosity in her eyes that comes to a girl with her first suitor and a kitten with its first mouse."
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"Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under the right circumstances he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world. If I moved to a martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard for ten years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore myself to revenge. If I got a fatal disease, had one year to live, and devoted it to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to being bad.
Hiro used to feel this way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way, this was liberating. He no longer has to worry about being the baddest motherfucker in the world. The position is taken."
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