Geoff Nunberg

Geoff Nunberg is the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

He teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of The Way We Talk Now, Going Nucular, Talking Right and The Years of Talking Dangerously. His most recent book is Ascent of the A-Word. His website is www.geoffreynunberg.com.

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Commentary
11:32 am
Tue October 9, 2012

One Debate, Two Very Different Conversations

President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finish their debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3.
Saul Loeb AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 1:13 pm

When you consider how carefully staged and planned the debates are and how long they've been around, it's remarkable how often candidates manage to screw them up. Sometimes they're undone by a simple gaffe or an ill-conceived bit of stagecraft, like Gerald Ford's slip-up about Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1976, or Al Gore's histrionic sighing in 2000. Sometimes it's just a sign of a candidate having a bad day, like Ronald Reagan's woolly ramblings in the first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984.

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Commentary
12:28 pm
Wed October 3, 2012

When Words Were Worth Fighting Over

In 1961, the publication of Merriam-Webster's Third International Dictionary sparked an uproar with its inclusion of the word "ain't."
Flickr User Greeblie

Originally published on Wed October 3, 2012 2:10 pm

I have a quibble with the title of David Skinner's new book, The Story of Ain't. In fact, that pariah contraction plays only a supporting role in the story. The book is really an account of one of the oddest episodes in American cultural history, the brouhaha over the appearance of Merriam-Webster's Third International Dictionary in 1961.

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Politics & Government
10:30 am
Tue August 14, 2012

With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement'

Rep. Paul Ryan has made changes to social safety net programs like Medicare and Social Security — often called "entitlements" — a key part of his political agenda.
Win McNamee Getty Images

Originally published on Tue August 14, 2012 2:27 pm

People are saying that Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate creates an opportunity to hold what Ryan likes to call an "adult conversation" about entitlement spending. In the present political climate, it would be heartening to have an adult conversation about anything. But bear in mind that "entitlement" doesn't put all its cards on the table. Like a lot of effective political language, it enables you to slip from one idea to another without ever letting on that you've changed the subject.

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Commentary
1:04 pm
Tue July 24, 2012

Swearing: A Long And #%@&$ History

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue July 24, 2012 3:29 pm

Sometimes it's small government you need to keep your eye on. Take Middleborough, Mass., whose town meeting recently imposed a $20 fine for swearing in public. According to the police chief, the ordinance was aimed at the crowds of unruly teenagers who gathered downtown at night yelling profanities at people, not just someone who slams a finger in a car door. But whatever the exact idea was, nobody thought it was a good one.

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Opinion
11:26 am
Mon June 25, 2012

Taboo Revival: Talking Private Parts In Public Places

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue June 26, 2012 7:35 am

Geoff Nunberg is the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air. His new book, Ascent of the A-Word, will be appearing this summer.

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