Cover image for Going nucular : language, politics, and culture in confrontational times
Going nucular : language, politics, and culture in confrontational times
Nunberg, Geoffrey, 1945-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2004]

Physical Description:
xvii, 298 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes indexes.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PE2809 .N86 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The Fresh Air commentator and New York Times contributor artfully shows how our use of language reveals the true mindset of contemporary America. 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 sunsalmost 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. 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.

Author Notes

He is a principal scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center & a consulting professor in the Department of Linguistics at Stanford University. He is also chair of the Usage Panel of The American Heritage Dictionary of the english Language. He lives in San Francisco.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

"The worst offense you can commit against language," writes linguist Nunberg, "is to fail to listen to it closely." A peculiar notion: in the midst of what passes for our national conversation, someone suggests that we listen to what's being said. Nunberg is as good as his word. This collection of 66 essays, gathered from his appearances on NPR's Fresh Air0 and his columns for the New York Times 0 "Week in Review," offers new takes gleaned from the language of politics, business, warfare, symbols, technology, the media, culture, even language itself. Many insights come from pure legwork, like counting appearances of a word or expression in the press. For his essay on modern romance, Nunberg found that of 50 Nexus hits for the word suitor0 , 48 referred to business deals. Other insights are less binary, such as Nunberg's prophetic observation, made in September 2001, that the administration's choice of "Operation Enduring Freedom" as the name of its war on terrorism could rebound: "Winston Churchill knew as well as anyone how history delights in throwing unforeseen ironies our way." --Alan Moores Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Stanford linguistics professor Nunberg suggests using language as a "jumping-off point" to learn more about Americans' evolving values and attitudes in this feisty, humorous collection of essays gleaned from his NPR and newspaper commentaries. Nunberg cracks the codes embedded in many familiar terms used in media, business, technology and politics to reveal unexpected insights about our fractious society. Marching straight into the culture wars, he observes that the "old-fashioned" racial term "Caucasian" remains an acceptable euphemism for white, unlike the similarly dated racial categories, "Negroid" and "Mongoloid." "Caucasian," he concludes, "is a cultural category in racial drag." He deconstructs the notion of "class warfare" and explores how Americans' comfort in using the prefix "middle" with "class"-but not "upper" or "working"-speaks volumes about contemporary ideas on wealth, privilege and social mobility. The wordsmith also blows the whistle on the rhetorical gymnastics surrounding the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the war on terror. American foreign policy should not hinge on stamping unfriendly governments with absolute yet conveniently vague epithets like "evil" when a tag like "rogue states" works with fewer indignant howls, he says. As Nunberg's title suggests, pronunciation can also be political: President Bush's much-lampooned utterance "nucular" could be either a nod to "Pentagon wise guys" or a sly "faux-bubba" gimmick to curry favor with some voters. While liberals don't escape criticism, Nunberg unleashes his well-chosen barbs from a left-of-center perch. Conservatives, especially pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Peggy Noonan, receive special scrutiny for what Nunberg says are the simplistic linguistic devices they use to appeal to their audiences. Nunberg avoids hasty conjectures, and the provocative clues scattered across these pages should alert readers to the "linguistic deceptions" in their midst. Agent, Joseph Spieler. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. XI
Culture at Large
Plastics!p. 3
Keeping Ahead of the Jonesesp. 8
Caucasian Talk Circlesp. 12
Near Mythsp. 17
Lamenting Some Enforced Chastityp. 21
Stolen Wordsp. 25
Beating Their Browsp. 29
Prurient Interestsp. 33
War Drums
When Words Failp. 39
A Name Too Farp. 42
Beleaguered Infidelp. 47
It All Started with Robespierrep. 51
It May Be Banal but It's Bad Newsp. 55
Going Nucularp. 59
Appease Porridge Hotp. 63
The Second Casualtyp. 67
Naming of Foreign Partsp. 72
The Syntax of Resistancep. 75
A Couple of Words for Nothing Left to Losep. 79
The Gallic Subjectp. 84
Begin the Regimep. 88
We'll Always Have Kirkukp. 92
Politics as Usual
So Sorryp. 99
Some of My Best Friendsp. 103
Interested Partiesp. 107
Me, Too, Toop. 112
Slippery Slopesp. 117
If It's Orwellian, It's Probably Notp. 121
Meetings of the Mindsp. 126
Lattes, Limousines, and Libsp. 131
Where the Left Commencesp. 135
A Fascist in Every Garagep. 139
Class Dismissedp. 144
Special Effectsp. 148
A Date to Rememberp. 155
Our Nation's Favorite Songp. 159
The Last Refuge of Scoundrels and Other Peoplep. 163
Pledge Breakp. 168
Media Words
Rush Limbaugh's Pluralsp. 175
The Politics of Polysyndetonp. 179
The Speech That Turns Mere Presidents Into Talk Show Hostsp. 184
I Seeing the News Today, Oh Boyp. 188
Roil Painp. 192
Business Cycles
For Love or Moneyp. 199
The Triumph of Capitalismp. 202
A Good Old-Gentlemanly Vicep. 206
The Vision Thingp. 210
Initiating Mission-Critical Jargon Reductionp. 214
Farewell to the Alerop. 218
100 Percent Solutionsp. 222
Tech Talk
As Google Goes, So Goes the Nationp. 227
I Have Seen the Future, and It Blogsp. 231
Prefixed Outp. 235
The Icebox Goethp. 238
Watching Our Language
Deceptively Yoursp. 243
The Bloody Crossroads of Grammar and Politicsp. 246
Letter Perfectp. 251
A Thousand Picturesp. 255
All That You Can Beep. 260
Like, Wow!p. 264
Lucubratin' Rhythmp. 268
Ain't Misbehavin'p. 271
There Are No Postmodernists in a Foxholep. 275
Adverbially Yoursp. 279
Word Indexp. 283
Subject Indexp. 289