Simon Agonistes

Randolph Quirk

  • Paradigms Lost: Reflections on Literacy and its Decline by John Simon
    Chatto, 222 pp, £9.95, October 1981, ISBN 0 7011 2601 9

How do you measure literacy? Hardly – without distorting language in a way that could itself be called illiterate – by quoting the fustian prose or mixed metaphors of a writer you dislike. How do you measure decline in literacy? Despite his subtitle, John Simon seems to sidestep this one completely. As well he might. Bombastic English has been vigorously deplored since the time of Sir Thomas More, and it would be difficult to demonstrate that there was relatively more (or less) of it around today. Bad spelling is certainly no measure. As a popular touchstone of literacy standards, it has a scarcely longer history than compulsory education.

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