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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Geoffrey Nunberg is, amongst other things, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University, but he's better known to most of us for his witty and perceptive commentaries on popular language usage. Going Nucular is a collection of 65 articles, each one based on a word that is commonly used in political speech. It's an eclectic list: terrorism, vision, freedom, régime, hero, torture, capitalism, postmodern, fascist, google. Then, of course, there's nuclear.
I had a momentary fear on receiving this book that it would be yet another diatribe against (or for) the current president, who is well-known for his tendency to mispronounce nuclear as "nucular." But the author reminds us that this word has tripped up a series of presidents from Dwight D Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton. Nunberg's point, as usual, is more subtle. He notes that some of the people who talk of "nucular weapons" have no difficulty pronouncing "nuclear family." So are they really stubbing their toes on a hard-to-say word or are they indulging in faux-folksy speech?
Warning to grammarians: Nunberg has no patience with the dictionary police. In his opinion, English is at its best in creative hands - just think of Shakespeare. How we use and change words gives those with the ear to hear a wealth of information about how we think. Consider how the media describe those folk in Iraq who oppose US policy. Terrorists? Insurgents? Freedom fighters? Rebels? Patriots? Whichever word is chosen reveals a bias.
All the articles in "Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times" originally appeared either on National Public Radio's Fresh Air or one of several major newspapers over the past few years. Together they illustrate how much more words reveal than their dictionary definitions.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
The Word Man Cometh! That would have been a better title for this book. Professor Nunberg loves words and loves thinking about what it means when people use certain ones . . . rather than others.

In the last 60 years in the United States, we have seen a substantial increase in the kind of political language that George Orwell satirized in 1984. When it's very overt, we all get the message. When it's a little more subtle, we may be manipulated without realizing it. Professor Nunberg is very sensitive to that problem, and this book will help protect your unconscious mind for unperceived assaults.

Stanford professor of linguistics Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg has taken a number of his "Fresh Air" commentaries and brief articles from leading publications in the last few years, and grouped them into somewhat related areas. He begins with Culture at Large, moves on to War Drums, sidles over to Politics as Usual, looks next at Symbols, before considering Media Words, then lampoons Business Cycles and Tech Talk before finishing with words to help us while we're Watching Our Language.

Foes of President Bush and conservative talk show commentators will probably enjoy the book the most. The title piece looks at the great difficulty the president has in pronouncing "nuclear" when he's referring to atomic issues . . . and takes a sideways swipe at his possible motivations in conceivably making this mistake deliberately.

But the book has more charm than that. In many cases, he shares with us the arrival and departure of various words into common use while giving us a sense of what it all means. An early essay on how "plastics" when from positive to negative is a good example. I was pleased that he also took on the label of "Caucasian" which I have never understood the reason for. In sympathy with the youngsters who compete in spelling bees at the national level, he wonders what it proves that some can and cannot spell words that hardly anyone knows and which don't spell much like they sound. He also has kind words for the use of "ain't" and what purposes it can serve.

Some of the usual targets take their shots too, such as postmodernists.

Business authors, reporters and leaders will probably not stop blushing for two decades from the unerring rapier of commonsense aimed at their inflated use of language.

There's even a nice look at whether and when adverbs make sense to add.

It was with great relief that I found that he isn't all that comfortable with the grammar police, noting how many times the required constructions look, read and sound awful!

I suspect that this would have been a better book if limited to just one area -- like the current presidential campaign . . . but it's more than rewarding as it is. I hope Professor Nunberg will consider creating something special next year to deepen the points he has made here.
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on December 14, 2013
As someone who used be very smart but whose intelligence has slowly declined over several years of intellectual laziness, I felt better and smarter after reading this book. That said, it is a collection of articles written by the author, and several topics become redundant about half way through. I didn't really mind it, though, as the topics were interesting to me. Because many of the articles are newspaper articles, they are dated - again, not something that bothered me as the parts that are outdated are just examples to underline the author's points. Plus, I can still remember those out-dated people/events that he is referring to, so its relevant enough for me. One thing I found sort of ironic was the author's repetition of 3 or 4 words (most of them multi-syllabic adjectives) throughout the book; it just seems like if you are writing a book about language and words, you'd pick up a thesaurus to vary your word choice. These things aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the book for a casual read that was thorough and thought-provoking without being overly complex.
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on August 2, 2010
And if you find politics entertaining, you might want to check out how language is carefully chosen to make you believe and trust a particular politician or a campaign slogan. A book that highlights the use of language in politics is Geoffrey Nunberg's "Going Nucular: Language, Politics, and Culture in Confrontational Times." You will be thoroughly manipulated by the end.

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on February 4, 2014
Numberg's "Nucular" is an insightful and humorous examination of our daily language. This is a scholarly work that reads more like a work by a comedian.
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26 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2004
I am usually disappointed when the interview part of NPR's Fresh Air show ends and the tail end commentary or review fills out the show's hour...except when Geoffrey Nunberg gives one of his little radio essays on language. For that reason I was eager to read this book, but I was frustrated to find that Going Nucular is simply a collection of those radio essays, with a few newspaper columns thrown in. I had heard most of what I was now reading, and since all of the essays were written since 2001, they were mostly fresh in my mind. Not that they weren't interesting, but they simply weren't new. I suspect other regular Fresh Air listeners will have a similar reaction. After finishing the book I scanned the cover and could not find any indication that the book was a collection of old essays, which I found sort of ironic being that the Nunberg is a communication expert.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon June 14, 2006
After typing the title of this review, I wonderful nervously (tongue partly in cheek) whether the terms "entertaining", "fun", and "thought-provoking" may -- by virtue of their respective trajectories in the venacular -- be laden with nuances of which I am not (at some peril?) aware. No one, with the possible exception of professional linguists, has time to ponder every word he utters or writes. As GN so ably -- and entertainingly(!) -- reminds us, however, we would all be wise to choose our words carefully. It matters deeply whether we invoke language in a vacuum, with no regard for context or history. The indiscriminate application, in private and public discourse, of labels like "fascist" and "genocide", are acute cases in point. I have always considered myself sensitive to language. Reading GN, I am reminded how much more I must study, ponder, and self-reflect before I can really make the claim. The tiny essays in GN are enormous food for thought.
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