LESS THAN WORDS CAN SAY by Richard Mitchell


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Strictures on the passive verb, teachers who can't spell, and other, less obvious products of ""a pretentious but shoddy education."" Mitchell teaches English at Glasboro (N.J.) State College and puts out The Underground Grammarian-in which, as here, he scores affronts to ""correctness and precision"" in language. Much of the content is familiar stuff--examples of bureaucratic obfuscation, student ineptness and grant-getting palaver so ghastly that no self-respecting person (who me?) can do anything but shudder. But Mitchell, who equates clear writing with clear thinking (and, over-reaching, Churchill's rhetoric with England's finest hour), is not out to advance the safe and SANE-like cause of ""plain English"": some documents--like those notorious definitions of ""means of egress""--are always ""too hard for somebody; it's just that now we have more and more of those somebodies."" For that reason--and because literacy is potential power--he's opposed to the teaching of Black English and to the latest substitute for language mastery, ""minimum competence."" All these ""zany notions,"" writes Mitchell, have ""arisen as education's response to deficiencies caused by education,"" and--given their profitability to the ""educationist establishment"" and their acceptability to the unthreatened elite--he doesn't see much hope. Politically, his anti-populist argument is a strong one; but as a polemicist he hasn't Edwin Newman's class or Ivan Illich's scouring vision. A great deal of this reads like an Op-Ed page harangue.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1979
Publisher: Little, Brown