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Extended Interview: Geoff Nunberg chronicles the ascent of the 'A-word'

This interview contains explicit language

The hated boss, the driver that cuts you off on the freeway, an adulterous spouse  — according to linguist Geoff Nunberg, we are now living in the age of a-wordism. But how did a body part turn into a wholly American insult?

From soldiers on the World War II battlefield to Neil Simon plays and Woody Allen movies, Nunberg explains how American fame and values has only exacerbated the a-wordism of society. 

While Geoff was here, he gave us his own insight of a few notable figures and whether they pass the a-word test:

Donald Trump: "He's the a-word's a-word. He's distinguished himself in this way in his personal life, in the drama he creates in reality television. You get to see being a person like this, to people who are encouraged behave this way themselves to stay on the show. It's kind of a theatre of a-wordism, as are a lot of reality shows. And in his political life also, he's managed to be an a-word. And for a while because of that, to rise to the top of the Republican polls in early 2011, [which is] extraordinary, because people who were for him weren't denying that, 'he's the a-word we need to take on that other a-word.'"

Adolf Hitler: "No, the thing about this word is that it refers to someone who's contemptable, and contempt implies familiarity, it implies a member of our own tribe. People like Hitler and Osama bin Laden, aren't diminished ... this is a diminishing word, you want the enormity of their deeds stand for itself."

John Edwards: "John Edwards proved himself to be an a-word of another type, not so much the Newt Gingrich type, that is to say in political discourse, but certainly in his personal life he stood in for a type that behaves badly towards women. And was narcissitic about it, and did everything you could do to earn that label."

An Excerpt From Geoffrey Nunberg

 

Guest:

Geoffrey Nunberg, adjunct full professor at UC Berkeley's School of Information, a linguist, and former chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary.

 

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