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.

It has become a familiar story in a world bristling with live mics. A public figure is caught out using a vulgarity, and the media have to decide how to report the remark. Web media tend to be explicit, but the traditional media are more circumspect. Take the vulgar epithet that George W. Bush was overheard using to describe a New York Times reporter during the 2000 presidential campaign. Some newspapers printed it with dashes or asterisks. Others said it was a word that rhymed with...

Wherever you look, this is the year of white working-class males — or, as Donald Trump describes them, "the smart, smart, smart people that don't have the big education." Who are they, and why are they sticking with Trump even as other voters are peeling away? Sociologists talk about the disaffected white underclass. Marxists talk about the lumpenproletariat , or riffraff, which makes " Trumpenproletariat " almost irresistible. But others on both the left and right have used more...

"I am the law-and-order candidate." With that proclamation in his acceptance speech, Donald Trump made it official that he'd be recycling the themes and language of Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. A lot of observers were quick to point out that 2016 is no 1968 and that Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon . As it happens, "law and order" isn't what it once was, either. "Law and order" is an archaic expression, from the Latin "lex et ordo." Over the course of American history, it's the cry that the...

"The way kids speak today, I'm here to tell you." Over the course of history, every aging generation has made that complaint , and it has always turned out to be overblown. That's just as well. If the language really had been deteriorating all this time, we'd all be grunting like bears by now. But when it comes to language, history is bunk. Or anyway, it hasn't deterred critics from monitoring the speech of today's young people for the signs of cultural decline. In fact it was a professor of...

The French have gotten themselves into one of their recurrent linguistic lathers , this one over the changes in their spelling that will be taking effect in the fall. The changes were originally proposed more than 25 years ago. But nothing much came of them until the government recently announced that they'd be incorporated in the new textbooks, at which point traditionalists took to the barricades. The government has made a point of calling the changes "rectifications" rather than reforms,...

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