Richard Mitchell is trying to stay awake. What’s putting him, and all of us to sleep? “Insubstantial words, hazy and disembodied, [that] have fled utterly from things and ideas.” In Less Than Words Can Say, Mitchell wakes everybody up with the most devastating exposé to date of our rampant misuse of English. A Don Quixote—Savonarola might be more apt—of language, he wages war on its perverters, from teachers and deans to politicians and bureaucrats, whose consistently overblown prose offers us inanity in the guise of wisdom. “Words never fail, ” Mitchell declares—and inane words never fail to damage the brain. All too often, words are used imprecisely by administrators and bureaucrats, as unintelligible public documents, oblique grant proposals, and pretentious administrative memoranda attest. Mitchell’s cantankerous crusade indicts government agency “chairs ” for the intimidating and obfuscating “legalese ” of their profession, obsequious grant-seekers who supplicat
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