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
1:45 pm
Wed July 15, 2015

Tracing The Origin Of The Campaign Promise To 'Tell It Like It Is'

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has promised to "tell it like it is" during his presidential campaign.
Mel Evans AP

Originally published on Wed July 15, 2015 6:50 pm

"I tell it like it is." Chris Christie made this his campaign slogan. Donald Trump repeats it whenever he's challenged on something he has said. And Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich and Rick Santorum have said the same thing. It's the conventional pledge of candor, or what passes for it in American public life.

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Pop Culture
1:37 pm
Thu June 11, 2015

What's A Thamakau? Spelling Bee Is More About Entertainment Than English

Nathan J. Marcisz of Marion, Ind., focuses intently as he spells a word during the 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Alex Wong Getty Images

We English-speakers take a perverse pride in the orneriness of our spelling, which is one reason why the spelling bee has been a popular entertainment since the 19th century. It's fun watching schoolchildren getting difficult words right. It can be even more entertaining to watch literate adults getting them wrong.

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Commentary
1:20 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

From TED Talks To Taco Bell, Abuzz With Silicon Valley-Style 'Disruption'

Martin Starr plays software designer Gilfoyle in the HBO comedy Silicon Valley. In the show's new season, Gilfoyle and his fellow techies attend a startup competition named "Disrupt."
Frank Masi HBO

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 5:22 pm

HBO's Silicon Valley is back, with its pitch-perfect renderings of the culture and language of the tech world — like at the opening of the "Disrupt" startup competition run by the Tech Crunch website at the end of last season. "We're making the world a better place through scalable fault-tolerant distributed databases" — the show's writers didn't have to exercise their imagination much to come up with those little arias of geeky self-puffery, or with the name Disrupt, which, as it happens, is what the Tech Crunch conferences are actually called.

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Digital Life
3:39 pm
Thu March 12, 2015

Don't You Dare Use 'Comprised Of' On Wikipedia: One Editor Will Take It Out

Bryan Henderson, who goes by Giraffedata, has written a 6,000-word essay on his Wikipedia user page explaining why he thinks "comprised of" is an egregious error.
iStock

I think of English usage as one of those subjects like cocktails or the British royal family. A lot of people take a passing interest in it but you never know who's going to turn out to be a true believer — the kind of person who complains about the grammar errors on restaurant menus. "Waiter, there's a split infinitive in my soup!"

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All Tech Considered
2:58 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 9:47 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.

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All Tech Considered
3:46 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 4:20 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.

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Commentary
2:54 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

150 Years After Marx, 'Capital' Still Can't Shake Loose Of 'Das Kapital'

A lot of things had to come together to turn Thomas Piketty's controversial Capital in the Twenty-First Century into the tome of the season. There's its timeliness, its surprising accessibility and the audacity of its thesis, that capitalism inevitably leads to greater concentrations of wealth at the very top.

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All Tech Considered
2:21 pm
Thu January 16, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 4:59 pm

"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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Commentary
2:27 pm
Mon December 23, 2013

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

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

Originally published on Mon December 23, 2013 4:01 pm

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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Commentary
11:26 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 11:48 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.

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