The "i" prefix began as an abbreviation for the word "Internet," but ended up being much more than that. "By the time i- was fleshed out, Apple had transformed itself from a culty computer-maker to a major religion," says linguist Geoff Nunberg.
Words like "proletariat" and "masses" have largely left the lexicon, but linguist Geoff Nunberg says "class warfare" is a specter that haunts the English language — whenever there are appeals for making the rich pay more.
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, linger in our thoughts, but not so much in our speech. Linguist Geoff Nunberg says "it's striking that 9/11 and its aftereffects have left almost no traces in the language of everyday life."
Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the compromises we refuse to make say the most about our character. "Sometimes we stand on principle for the heady satisfaction of showing that we can't be pushed around," he says.
Linguist Geoff Nunberg says everyone's using the phrase "we're broke" these days to justify cuts in government programs and services. But what does "we're broke" actually mean? The answer, says Nunberg, is tricker than you think.
Sam Chwat, a dialect specialist who worked closeley with people in business, politics and the film industry who wanted to lose their regional accents, died last Thursday. in 1994, Chwat explained how he helped clients like Robert DeNiro and Julia Roberts lose their famous accents.
Well, no, we're not going to tell you. No, no, no. Not even if you ask politely. But here's a hint: It's a "primordial one-word response" that perfectly encapsulates the aura -- no, make that the prevailing zeitgeist -- of 2010.
For most readers, the beauty of Jane Austen's style lies in her elegant syntax and punctuation. Now, an Oxford scholar has created a furor by suggesting that the credit for Austen's style should really be given to the man who edited her novels. But linguist Geoff Nunberg remains skeptical.
We listen back to excerpts from a 1988 interview with the NBC broadcaster, whose fascination with linguistic excess led to a series of books about the English language. During his long career Newman covered President Kennedy's assassination and the Six-Day War. He died on Aug. 13 at age 91.
Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the word "sensitive" was complicated long before it was political. These days, "sensitivities" can be a stand-in for a lot of different attitudes -- some more defensible than others. Our modern stress on sensitivities, he says, probably set back cultural understanding as much as it has advanced it.
When Sarah Palin used the word "refudiate," she took a lot of flak -- both for saying she coined the word deliberately and then comparing herself to Shakespeare. Linguist Geoff Nunberg says political slips and errors aren't half as interesting as the way people react to them.
The pithy, 17-syllable poems fit neatly into Twitter's 140-character limit. "Twaiku" has taken off. Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the pervasive little poems have filled the cultural space that was once occupied by light verse.
Linguist Geoff Nunberg doesn't enjoy everything about the English language. There are phrases that get on his nerves and words that he prefers not to use. And Nunberg says he's not the first person to have linguistic pet peeves — nor will he be the last.
Once word got out about Sen. Harry Reid's recently reported 2008 remarks about then-candidate Barack Obama's skin color and speech, just about everybody thought he needed to apologize — not least Reid himself. But people had different stories about why.
Counting words has become a popular new device in assessing political speech. The number of first-person singular pronouns in a speech can turn a modest public figure into a pompous politician. Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg suggests that counting words isn't very revealing unless we consider their context as well.