Monday, May 3, 2010

The Underground Grammarian

Day 83 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project. Gary, a perpetual reader, is perennially reading The Gift of Fire, a book of essays by Richard Mitchell. He read aloud from his paperback copy of it Sunday morning, over coffee, to delight some houseguests.

Richard Mitchell is the beloved founder of The Underground Grammarian, "an unauthorized journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue," and is the Underground Grammarian himself (rest in peace). You can read (and freely plagiarize from) all of The Underground Grammarian online, but I am crediting him here, using quotation marks (or italics in the extended quotation below), and encouraging you to read the various books available in print format, as well, because that's what I do here.

I think Mitchell would forgive me for my curling of the Mother Tongue here in my goofy blog, but heaven forbid I should commit some of my grammatical errors in formal writing or in print! He would, if alive, stick out his tongue at me.

Because permission is given at the Underground Grammarian website, I will quote a hefty hunk of his practical advice on what, beyond sticking out your tongue, literally or figuratively, you, too, can do when you witness abuse of the English language:

What Can We Do?

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. We can advise, or give advice, or even do some advising. Advisement permits nothing beyond what we can already mean with the words we have. Perhaps, by analogy to confinement, it might name a condition in which we suffer the consequence of having been advised; or, like government, it might indicate some cloud of loosely related abstractions and institutions. Those who say it to us must simply mean advising, but they fear that a clear naming of what they do will reveal how little it needs doing, and they will find themselves in the streets selling wind-up toys. Such people feel degraded unless what they do ends with -ment or some other official sound such as -ation or -ivity. Work that ends with -ing makes them nervous.

Do not boo and stamp your feet when some barbarian says advisement; it will bring reprisal, for barbarians are vindictive. Simply mutter, just loud enough to be heard, "Clickety-click-click." This requires no lip movement and suggests a wind-up toy. With a female barbarian, an equally good response is "Ding-dong," familiar to all television-addicted barbarians and suggesting some more appropriate career in cosmetics.

When advisement appears in a document sent by campus mail, smear it with something foul and return it to the sender.

Do NOT take this under advisement. As ever, happy reading!


Julie Kistler said...

Scott wants you to know that when English speakers (or the English version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") say, "for a change of pace," Swedes (or the Swedish version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo") say "for the sake of unusualness." He found this amusing, and since it is on the general topic of language and books, I thought I would share. You may take it under advisement. ;-) I have a feeling your Underground Grammarian wouldn't appreciate emoticons, either.

Also, we are going to try to get over to Champaign tonight to have pizza and see the movie version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," which I believe your friend's uncle appears in. I will report back! It plays through May 6th at the Art Theater in Champaign. I planned to go earlier but have been under the weather with a bad sinus infection and have been doing as little as possible. Well, sleeping and pushing liquids. Other than that, as little as possible.

Kathleen said...

I am glad you are going to a movie out of town, for the sake of unusualness. I have been out of town and rather unusual lately, as well. Now I must return to usualness. I wonder if the Swedes would rename this town Usual?

Julie Kistler said...

I believe the Swedish word is Vanlig. Do you like that better? But "I live in Vanlig, Illinois" doesn't have the same unusualness as "I live in Normal, Illinois."

Anonymous said...

When I hear "I'll take it under advisement," I interpret the statement in two ways: as implying "I'll consider what you said," and (in reality) "Whoa, there's no way I'm going to give another thought to what you just said. No way."

Reminds me of what William Burroughs said he was told by a candidate for office once at a backyard picnic and fundraiser: "anything you do for me, I'll depreciate." With that, he said, his visions of influence fluttered away with the winds.

Anonymous said...

So,"The Gift of Fire" is a popular title, I see. I'm up to my neck in grammarians, so did not read about this closely. Just read a proposed policy statement from Beyond the Books. "A Finance Committee member whom is not the Treasurer should be appointed . . . " Do you see what I mean? Just really checking to see if you can access my comment.

Kathleen said...

I love my Anonymous Mom.

And that other Anonymous guy, too.