November 12, 2013 The flap over the Kentucky senator's articles and speeches is just the latest in a series of cases of plagiarism by high-profile journalists and politicians. Linguist Geoff Nunberg looks at the way the word plagiarism has been used since it was invented by the Romans and wonders if it's always immoral or just bad form.
September 12, 2013 When dictionaries add trendy words like "twerk," they're prioritizing the fleeting language habits of the young, says Geoff Nunberg. And our fascination with novel words tends to eclipse subtle changes in the meanings of old ones — "which are often more consequential," he says.
August 5, 2013 The new eyeglass frames allow you to take pictures and browse the Internet while you wear them. Early adopters focused on the tiny screens have already been dubbed "glassholes." Fresh Air linguist Geoff Nunberg reminds us that in Shakespeare's time "distraction" was another word for madness.
June 21, 2013 Whether it's logs of phone calls or GPS data, commentator Geoff Nunberg says it still says a lot about who you are: "Tell me where you've been and who you've been talking to, and I'll tell you about your politics, your health, your sexual orientation, your finances," he says.
April 4, 2013 Lexicographers know they're in the hot seat as they confront the changing use of the word "marriage." Linguist Geoff Nunberg says the key to getting the new definition right is to crisply describe everything that's in the category and nothing that isn't.
February 26, 2013 We're living in an age obsessed with authenticity, says linguist Geoff Nunberg, but we often choose to nitpick the wrong details. Whether it's Downton Abbey, Mad Men, Lincoln or Argo, Nunberg argues, a historical novel or screenplay should give us a translation, not a transcription.
January 14, 2013 There are many theories about where the expression comes from — among them square-riggers with three masts, the amount of cloth in the queen's bridal train, the Shroud of Turin, and a prodigiously well-endowed Scotsman who gets his kilt caught in a door.
December 20, 2012 "Big Data" had just as much to do with President Obama's victory as phrases like "Etch A Sketch" and "47 percent," says linguist Geoff Nunberg. Big Data is also behind anxieties about intrusions on our privacy, whether from the government's anti-terrorist data sweeps or the ads that track us on the Web.
November 1, 2012 Adding a foreign word to your vocabulary is like adding foreign attire to your wardrobe. Sometimes you do it because it's practical and sometimes just because you think it looks cool. Linguist Geoff Nunberg says Americans' use of "spot on" falls somewhere between affectation and flash.
October 3, 2012 Since the 1961 publication of the Third International Dictionary, people have debated the merits of dictionaries that describe language as it is and those that explain how it should be. Today the debate continues, but it doesn't hold the same cultural significance as before, writes Geoff Nunberg.
June 25, 2012 Earlier this month, there was a national uproar when a Michigan state legislator was disciplined for using a clinical sexual term during a debate. According to linguist Geoff Nunberg, it was just one of many such incidents that reflect a trend he calls the New Reticence.