Friday, January 06, 2012
In the process of going through some old files, I learned that the complete works of "Underground Grammarian" Richard Mitchell, an old favorite of mine, are online for free. I already own three of his four books, lacking only The Graves of Academe, which I look forward to reading at some point after I slowly work down a rather full book hopper with the help of my new ebook reader.
In the meantime, I'm enjoying back issues of Mitchell's Underground Grammarian newsletter. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy his sense of humor, and find his ability to laugh even while besieged with incompetence and foolishness -- whose consequences he understands -- quite bracing. One of Mitchell's opening statements of purpose provides a fair and entertaining introduction to Mitchell's style, for anyone lucky enough to have all of his work to look forward to:
The betterment of fools, Goethe tells us, is the appropriate business of other fools. The Underground Grammarian does not seek to educate anyone. We intend rather to ridicule, humiliate, and infuriate those who abuse our language not so that they will do better but so that they will stop using language entirely or at least go away. There are callings in which the abuse of English doesn't matter; ours isn't one of them. When Bole Administration Building is loud with the clatter of ball-point pens falling from the trembling fingers of frenzied administrators, when semi-literate instructors furtively eye the classified ads looking for honest employment as salesmen in discount stores specializing in floor-covering, when the Faculty Senate disbands because no one is willing to risk uttering gibberish in public, then The Underground Grammarian will have reached some of its goals. If we do our job well, more and more people at Glassboro State College will emit fewer and fewer memoranda. The taxpayers of New Jersey will be spared the cost of thousands of reams of paper; duplicators will consume less energy; professors could put into teaching the effort now expended in replying to inane surveys and checking meaningless ballots that will choose one mediocrity rather than another to serve in a position of no significance; and tall trees saved from destruction will stand for long years in noble forests. Virtues foster one another; so too, vices. Bad English kills trees, consumes energy, and befouls the earth. Good English renews it.I've read three issues of the newsletter so far, and thought I'd share a few quotes from the first here, in the order I encountered them.
- "We cannot honorably accept the wages, confidence, or licensure of the citizens who employ us as we darken counsel by words without understanding."
- Regarding a poorly-written memo: "And furthermore, directness and precision would have relieved Yeldell's nagging fear that his readers would not easily identify his committee. He might then have avoided the ugly legalese of said committee in two places."
- "[T]he clause implies that this assertion is, at least, arguable, or that the committee may be dead."
- "The Underground Grammarian does not advocate violence; it advocates ridicule. Abusers of English are often pompous, and ridicule hurts them more than violence. In every edition we will bring you practical advice for ridiculing abusers of English."
- "This month's target is any barbarian who says advisement..."