Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times / Edition 1

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The words that echo through Geoffrey Nunberg's brilliant new journey across the landscape of American language evoke exactly the tenor of our times. Nunberg has a wonderful ear for the new, the comic and the absurd. He pronounces that: "‘Blog' is a syllable whose time has come," and that "You don't get to be a verb unless you're doing something right," with which he launches into the effect of Google on our collective consciousness. Nunberg hears the shifting use of "Gallic" as we suddenly find ourselves in bitter opposition to the French; perhaps only Nunberg could compare America the Beautiful with a Syrian national anthem that contains the line "A land resplendent with brilliant suns...almost like a sky centipede."

At the heart of the entertainment and linguistic slapstick that Nunberg delights in are the core concerns that have occupied American minds. "Going Nucular," the title piece, is more than a bit of fun at the President's expense. Nunberg's analysis is as succinct a summary of the questions that hover over the administration's strategy as any political insider's. It exemplifies the message of the book: that in the smallest ticks and cues of language the most important issue and thoughts of our times can be heard and understood. If you know how to listen for them. Nunberg has dazzling receptors, perfect acoustics and a deftly elegant style to relay his wit and wisdom.

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Editorial Reviews

David Greenberg
Although Nunberg ranges over many kinds of words, including shrewd meditations on the teenager's "like" and the growing vogue of "Caucasian" instead of "white" -- his observations on political speech are especially valuable in revealing how words inform our understanding of issues.
The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483456
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 6/13/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,306,248
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

Geoffrey Nunberg is a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University and a Consulting Full Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University. He is chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. Since 1989, he has done a regular language feature on NPR's "Fresh Air," and more recently he has been doing regular features about language and topical issues for the Sunday New York Times "Week in Review."

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Table of Contents

Culture at large
Plastics! 3
Keeping ahead of the Joneses 8
Caucasian talk circles 12
Near myths 17
Lamenting some enforced chastity 21
Stolen words 25
Beating their brows 29
Prurient interests 33
War drums
When words fail 39
A name too far 42
Beleaguered infidel 47
It all started with Robespierre 51
It may be banal but it's bad news 55
Going nucular 59
Appease porridge hot 63
The second casualty 67
Naming of foreign parts 72
The syntax of resistance 75
A couple of words for nothing left to lose 79
The Gallic subject 84
Begin the regime 88
We'll always have Kirkuk 92
Politics as usual
So sorry 99
Some of my best friends 103
Interested parties 107
Me, too, too 112
Slippery slopes 117
If it's Orwellian, it's probably not 121
Meetings of the minds 126
Lattes, limousines, and libs 131
Where the left commences 135
A fascist in every garage 139
Class dismissed 144
Special effects 148
A date to remember 155
Our nation's favorite song 159
The last refuge of scoundrels and other people 163
Pledge break 168
Media words
Rush Limbaugh's plurals 175
The politics of polysyndeton 179
The speech that turns mere presidents into talk show hosts 184
I seeing the news today, oh boy 188
Roil pain 192
Business cycles
For love or money 199
The triumph of capitalism 202
A good old-gentlemanly vice 206
The vision thing 210
Initiating mission-critical jargon reduction 214
Farewell to the Alero 218
100 percent solutions 222
Tech talk
As Google goes, so goes the nation 227
I have seen the future, and it blogs 231
Prefixed out 235
The icebox goeth 238
Watching our language
Deceptively yours 243
The bloody crossroads of grammar and politics 246
Letter perfect 251
A thousand pictures 255
All that you can bee 260
Like, wow! 264
Lucubratin' rhythm 268
Ain't misbehavin' 271
There are no postmodernists in a foxhole 275
Adverbially yours 279
Word index 283
Subject index 289
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