Monday, June 29, 2009

Geoffrey Nunberg - The Years of Talking Dangerously

Geoffrey Nunberg came to Kepler's on June 25, 2009 to discuss his most recent book, The Years of Talking Dangerously. Event host Bobbi Emel reports:


Sectarian violence aimed at expressing differences. Or, as most would describe the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq: civil war. Obviously, a White House press secretary went to great lengths to not use the words "civil war" only to be caught by Berkeley professor and "rock-star linguist" Geoffrey Nunberg who promptly broadcasted this particular inanity on Fresh Air and then plopped it in his new book, The Years of Talking Dangerously. An anthology of his commentaries on NPR's Fresh Air, The Years of Talking Dangerously is an interesting and humorous look at events around us and the way we use words, or manipulate words, to describe them.

A large crowd came to Kepler's to hear Geoff Nunberg talk about everything from the Bush Administration's incredible gyrations to avoid "the torture word" to the struggles of dictionary editors to define words like "love," "girlfriend," and "marriage" in a world where same-sex marriage is becoming more of a reality. Dr. Nunberg is a droll and entertaining speaker. In my interview with him after the event, I asked him what he thought the Word of the Year should be. He responded that it will probably be something boring like "credit default swap." When I asked him what the Word would be if he had the deciding vote, he said it would be "Tweezer," a word he made up to describe people over 50 who use Twitter. By the way, he thinks Twitter is a great invention because it causes people to communicate in 140 characters or less. I was surprised and remarked that I thought linguists would want people to become more verbose, rather than less. He looked chagrined and said, "No. Pithy. That's what we want. Pithy." No wonder he's a fan of Twitter and the Tweezers who love it.