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.

All Tech Considered
2:01 pm
Wed December 10, 2014

Feeling Watched? 'God View' Is Geoff Nunberg's Word Of The Year

Geoffrey Nunberg says technology makes it seem as if we're always being watched, which is creepy.
Ralf Hirschberger AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 11, 2014 8:47 am

"Infobesity," "lumbersexual," "phablet." As usual, the items that stand out as candidates for word of the year are like its biggest pop songs, catchy but ephemeral. But even a fleeting expression can sometimes encapsulate the zeitgeist. That's why I'm nominating "God view" for the honor.

Read more
All Tech Considered
2:46 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn't Mean Much

Vertigo3d iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue July 1, 2014 3:20 pm

To judge from some of the headlines, it was a very big deal. At an event held at the Royal Society in London, for the first time ever, a computer passed the Turing Test, which is widely taken as the benchmark for saying a machine is engaging in intelligent thought. But like the other much-hyped triumphs of artificial intelligence, this one wasn't quite what it appeared. Computers can do things that seem quintessentially human, but they usually take a different path to get there.

Read more
Commentary
10:26 am
Thu December 19, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Fri December 20, 2013 10:48 am

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.

Read more
Commentary
12:11 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Tue November 12, 2013 3:31 pm

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.

Read more
Commentary
2:33 pm
Fri April 26, 2013

'Horrific' And 'Surreal': The Words We Use To Bear Witness

Visitors paid their respects at a makeshift memorial on Boylston Street on April 20, near the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Timothy A. Clary AFP/Getty Images

Mass shootings, bus crashes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks — we've gotten adept at talking about these things. Act of God or act of man, they're all horrific. At least that was the word you kept hearing from politicians and newscasters describing the Boston bombings and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas.

Read more
Commentary
2:05 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter?

Linguist Geoff Nunberg finds that in the film Lincoln, screenwriter Tony Kushner oscillates between old and modern meanings of "equality."
DreamWorks/Twentieth Century Fox

Originally published on Tue February 26, 2013 6:12 pm

Has there ever been an age that was so grudging about suspending its disbelief? The groundlings at the Globe Theatre didn't giggle when Shakespeare had a clock chime in Julius Caesar. The Victorians didn't take Dickens to task for having the characters in A Tale of Two Cities ride the Dover mail coach 10 years before it was established. But Shakespeare and Dickens weren't writing in the age of the Internet, when every historical detail is scrutinized for chronological correctness, and when no "Gotcha!" remains unposted for long.

Read more
Commentary
1:25 pm
Mon January 14, 2013

'The Whole Nine Yards' Of What?

There are those who say the phrase "the whole nine yards" comes from a joke about a prodigiously well-endowed Scotsman who gets his kilt caught in a door.
iStockPhoto

Where does the phrase "the whole nine yards" come from? In 1982, William Safire called that "one of the great etymological mysteries of our time."

He thought the phrase originally referred to the capacity of a cement truck in cubic yards. But there are plenty of other theories.

Read more
Opinion
10:36 am
Tue March 13, 2012

Slut: The Other Four Letter S-Word

Definition of slut found in dictionary.
NPR

Originally published on Wed March 14, 2012 9:12 am

Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, is the author of the book The Years of Talking Dangerously.

"My choice of words was not the best," Rush Limbaugh said in his apology. That's the standard formula for these things — you apologize not for what you said but for the way you said it.

Read more