Magazine June 1, 2021, Issue

Remembering the Underground Grammarian

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The CNN multipart series on the history of late-night television reminded me that Johnny Carson used to have the occasional English professor as a guest. Quite unthinkable today. A. L. Rowse of Oxford once boasted to me what a bore it was to appear on The Tonight Show. It may have been my most memorable encounter with the “humblebrag.”

But it was Richard Mitchell (1929–2002), the self-described “underground grammarian,” whose appearances with Carson made the most lasting impressions. He looked the part of an English prof: thick glasses, disheveled comb-over, nervously high-pitched voice, eloquent speech. He wasn’t an Ivy Leaguer —

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Bryan A. Garner — Mr. Garner is the author of The Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation, Garner’s Modern English Usage, and The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing.

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