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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11:56am

Thu January 16, 2014
All Tech Considered

Hackers? Techies? What To Call San Francisco's Newcomers

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 2:59 pm

Protesters in San Francisco block a Google bus, which shuttles employees from the city to its location in Silicon Valley.
cjmartin Flickr

"There goes the neighborhood." Every so often that cry goes up in San Francisco, announcing a new chapter in American cultural history, as the rest of the country looks on. There were the beats in North Beach, then the hippies in the Haight, then the gays in the Castro. Now it's the turn of the techies who are pouring into my own Mission neighborhood, among other places. Only this time around, the green stuff that's perfuming the air is money, not weed.

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11:53am

Mon December 23, 2013
Commentary

Sorry Assiduous (adj.) SAT-Takers, Linguist In Dudgeon (n.) Over Vocab Flashcards

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 2:01 pm

Decades ago, the SAT test was seen as a measure of raw ability, not as something students ought to cram for. Now, test prep is a huge industry. Linguist Geoff Nunberg wonders what exactly students learn when they're flipping through vocabulary flashcards.
Mario Tama Getty Images

When I took the SATs a very long time ago, it didn't occur to us to cram for the vocabulary questions. Back then, the A in SAT still stood for "aptitude," and most people accepted the wholesome fiction that the tests were measures of raw ability that you couldn't prepare for — "like sticking a dipstick into your brain," one College Board researcher said.

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9:26am

Thu December 19, 2013
Commentary

Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 9:48 am

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a "selfie" with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Roberto Schmidt AFP/Getty Images

I feel a little defensive about choosing "selfie" as my Word of the Year for 2013. I've usually been partial to words that encapsulate one of the year's major stories, such as "occupy" or "big data." Or "privacy," which is the word Dictionary.com chose this year. But others go with what I think of as mayfly words — the ones that bubble briefly to the surface in the wake of some fad or fashion.

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11:11am

Tue November 12, 2013
Commentary

Was Rand Paul's Plagiarism Dishonest Or A Breach Of Good Form?

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 2:31 pm

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., talks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 3.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Even taken together, the charges didn't seem to amount to that big a deal — just a matter of quoting a few factual statements and a Wikipedia passage without attributing them. But as Rand Paul discovered, the word "plagiarism" can still rouse people to steaming indignation. Samuel Johnson called plagiarism the most reproachful of literary crimes, and the word itself began as the name of a real crime. In Roman law, a plagiarius was someone who abducted a child or a slave — it's from "plaga," the Latin word for a net or a snare.

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12:30pm

Thu September 12, 2013
Arts & Life

The Internet's 'Twerk' Effect Makes Dictionaries Less Complete

Originally published on Thu September 12, 2013 3:45 pm

Evidently it was quite fortuitous. Just a couple of days after MTV's Video Music Awards, Oxford Dictionaries Online released its quarterly list of the new words it was adding. To the delight of the media, there was "twerk" at the top, which gave them still another occasion to link a story to Miley Cyrus' energetic high jinks.

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