September 30, 2007

Grammarians and the road to national recovery

I'm once again reading Clive James, probably the most valuable of the many wonderful imports from Australia to have benefited British culture over the past forty years. A new fourth volume of his Unreliable Memoirs (yes, the first three were decades ago, and I took them to form a trilogy, but now there is more): North Face of Soho: More Unreliable Memoirs (London: Picador, 2007). He always makes me giggle. And when I reached page 150 I almost cheered:

If all the accomplished but not especially interesting would-be writers became schoolteachers and taught grammar, the country would be on the road to recovery.

Yeah! (I thought for one second); grammar could put the country on the road to recovery! But then immediately (funny how fast you can go off people) I saw the other side of it.

Hey! (I now thought); Wait a minute! Who are you calling a not especially interesting would-be writer? Grammarians aren't failed writers who had to go into teaching because they couldn't get their stuff published, you prejudiced Aussie oik! Grammarians are proud and strong, you mealy-mouthed limp-wristed jumped-up fly-blown pusillanimous talentless antipodean cravat-wearing book-reviewing little heap of dingo dung! I'm insulted. I teach grammar because it's important, and cool, and fascinating, and because it's a lot more fun than being a musician in a rock band, that's why. But I've seen this sort of insulting stuff before: we express ourselves temperately and respectfully but people still diss us. The way Cummings did, for example. We grammarians don't get no respect.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at September 30, 2007 09:58 AM