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.
May 30, 2012 When The Associated Press said it would no longer condemn the use of the adverb "hopefully" in its style guide, most people shrugged. But the announcement was a red flag to people who have made the adverb the biggest bugaboo of English usage over the past 50 years.
March 13, 2012 Rush Limbaugh said a number of things about Sandra Fluke that created such a stir that he ultimately had to apologize. But most of the reactions focused on that one word: slut. Linguist Geoff Nunberg observes that our reaction to the word says quite a lot about the society we live in.
October 25, 2011 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.