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
1:23 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Even Dictionaries Grapple With Getting 'Marriage' Right

Geoff Nunberg says a good definition extends to the past as well as the present: It's not just about what "marriage" has come to mean; it's all the word has ever meant.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu April 4, 2013 2:12 pm

It's a funny thing about dictionaries. First we're taught to revere them, then we have to learn to set them aside. Nobody ever went wrong starting a middle-school composition with, "According to Webster's ..." but that's not how you start an op-ed commentary about terrorism or racism. When it comes to the words that do the cultural heavy lifting, we're not about to defer to some lexicographer hunched over a dusty keyboard.

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Commentary
3:05 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 7:12 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.

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Commentary
11:19 am
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

Originally published on Mon January 14, 2013 2:25 pm

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.

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Commentary
2:10 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

Geoff Nunberg's Word Of The Year: Big Data

Adam Gryko iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 4:18 pm

"Big Data" hasn't made any of the words-of-the-year lists I've seen so far. That's probably because it didn't get the wide public exposure given to items like "frankenstorm," "fiscal cliff" and YOLO.

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