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Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show [Kindle Edition]

Geoffrey Nunberg
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Talking Right is Nunberg-s fierce and funny narrative of how the political right has ushered in a new linguistic order, aided unwittingly by the liberal media. While Democrats wade through wonky locutions like -social security lockbox,- and -single payer,- the right has become harder, meaner, and better at claiming words like -values,- -government,- -faith,- and -freedom- for its own. In effect, conservatives have shifted the political center of gravity of the language itself to the right. -Whatever our politics,- Nunberg observes, -when we talk about politics nowadays, we can-t help using language that embodies a conservative worldview.- This new paperback edition of Talking Right, featuring a step-back cover and a new introduction by the author, will be catnip to political junkies as the presidential election campaign rhetoric heats up.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nunberg, a professor of linguistics and columnist for the New York Times, believes that Democrats are at a loss for words when it comes to the use of political language. As the Democrats feebly argue that they must "reframe" their arguments to reach voters, Nunberg (Going Nucular) believes that "what we have here is more than just a failure to communicate." Though conservatives have gained political ground using loaded terms such as "death tax" for estate tax, "climate change" for global warming and "hate speech" for any criticism of the president or fellow Republicans, their true triumph is more subtle, hijacking the "core vocabulary of American political discourse"-like "values" and "elite"-and using them to Republicans' exclusive advantage. Nunberg insists that liberals cannot model their strategy after GOP successes, though he offers little in the way of practical strategy. Though the phrase "politics of perception" has been overused-and therefore, as Nunberg might argue, rendered empty of meaning-Nunberg proves in this thoughtful, funny and rousing effort that the use and misuse of language is still of vital concern to the body politic.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"provocative" and "clear-eyed." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer's Writing in The Plain Dealer, July 18, 2007

Product Details

  • File Size: 329 KB
  • Print Length: 276 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1586483862
  • Publisher: Public Affairs (July 3, 2006)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #904,570 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Losing the Language War July 10, 2006
A scholarly expose of the linguistic nuances of political doublespeak could prove deadly boring. But in TALKING RIGHT, Geoffrey Nunberg proves himself an able and funny commentator and educator on the topic. He traces and annotates the evolution of political and media euphemisms, lingo, and nomenclature in the U.S. with a gimlet-eyed stare. Yet even with the brio that Nunberg brings to his theses, one wonders: Is the failure of liberals (or "progressives," if you prefer) really an inability to get a good motto on a bumper sticker? Or is it simply that since Clinton, there has not been a compelling leader to take charge of the Democratic Party?

Anyway, regardless of your party affiliation, if you're politically aware and/or enjoy thinking about the meaning of words and/or have an interest in American history and current events, you will get something from this book. (Did I leave anyone out?)

SIDELIGHT: With a book that deals with linguistics and meaning, one hopes that the author is an expert in his field. Impressive academic credentials aside, Geoffrey Nunberg chairs the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary. That's good enough for me. (Imagine the rousing discussions they have in that group!)
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis of how slogans win elections August 19, 2006
The author's title, which describes how most Republicans describe most Democrats may not BE correct, but it SOUNDS correct to most people. That is the point this book is trying to make. Nunberg, a linguist by trade, shows how Republicans use terse and memorable mottos and slogans to get their points across and label their opponents - and it works, and has been working since 1980.

In contrast, the author points out that Democratic candidates have largely used lengthy discussions to argue their positions so that, at the end of the day, the voter can't remember the point the candidate was trying to make in the first place. This is largely because liberals have great disdain for simplistic answers to complex problems, but forget that the average voter can't remember the complex solution when he/she steps into the voting booth, even if the complex solution is correct.

The author points out that even when the Democrats have tried to come up with slogans they often fall flat. He uses John Kerry's 2004 campaign slogan "America can do better" as an example. Nunberg points out that this slogan sounds like what you would say to a less than brilliant child whose grades were even worse than expected. Is this really the Democrats' message to the nation: that they don't need to be quite as pathetic as they now are? The author points out that over the last 26 years, Bill Clinton seems to be the only national candidate who has been able to use the power of language effectively to get his message across with "It's the economy" in 1992 and "the bridge to the 21st century" in 1996.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Mile Wide and an Inch Deep September 19, 2006
Geoffrey Nunberg has chosen to restrict the scope of this book to a detailed description of the ways in which Republican spinmeisters have manipulated public opinion by the deceptive use of language. Within those narrow boundaries, the book is both thorough and comprehensive. For that reason it provides a useful refresher course on what perceptive observers of political discourse already know. But I was disappointed by the fact that the book was long on documentation and short on theory and analysis. The author is, after all, a professor of linguistics at a major university. Perhaps he was concerned that greater depth would make the book inaccessible to the audience that he desired to reach. But who in this country is likely to read his book? Scarcely a third of Americans read any books at all, and not more than ten percent read anything other than gothic romances and other genre fiction. Surely he could not expect to attract the attention of more than one-tenth of one percent of the adult population, and that composed of the very readers who are likely to seek something more substantial than what he has presented here.

What this book lacks most is historical and cultural context. Professor Nunberg does make brief mention of Edmund Burke, George Orwell, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty. But he ignores most of the long history of concern about linguistic deception, from Plato's polemics against the Sophists, through Marx's theory of the cultural superstructure being being determined by the economic base and Wittgenstein's philosophical investigations into language games, to the postmodern assault on the concept of "truth" in the works of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and others.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Told with great thought and insight August 25, 2006
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Geoffrey Nunberg's "Talking Right" is one of a number of books that have come out recently explaining why Democrats (and liberals, though not necessarily synonymous) have trouble getting their collective message across. Nunberg's approach is through language itself as he relates the success that the Republican right wing has had in wresting control of that message through slick phrases and twists on existing parlance. The author's book is straightforward and informative, to say the least.

It's clear from the beginning of "Talking Right" that this is not a book that will scream either at the right wingers or at us, the readers. Slowly, but with a broad brush, Nunberg hits the right (and with it the left, as well) with chapters on class, the "L" word, government and values. He's terrific, for instance, in delving into the word "freedom" and how the earliest Americans didn't use that word much...they preferred "liberty". It may be a bit of a shock to learn that the Declaration of Independence doesn't mention freedom at all but we are reminded " was liberty that Patrick Henry declared himself willing to die for....". In this wonderful chapter, Nunberg goes on to explain how freedom then became connected with other words along the way and how it became central to the Republican party's campaign for word domination.

While much of "Talking Right" is low-key, Nunberg revs up in a chapter called "Old Bottles, New Whines" and almost roars to the finish. The narrative here becomes eye-popping and this last third of the book is the best. Near the end of "Talking Right" Nunberg, speaking about "the right's capture of the basic vocabulary of politics...", concludes "...if the right can do this with an ersatz populism, surely the Democrats can do the same thing with a genuine one". It's a fitting statement to include in the final chapter of this terrific book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars For a guy who likes to complain about language,
He should complain about the verbosity of his own book. Complaints without any real solutions. Almost stopped reading this multiple times.
Published 20 months ago by Tom Steer
5.0 out of 5 stars Here's one liberal who doesn't fit this stereotype
Since I consider myself a middle-of-the-road liberal, I thought I would list the ways in which I differ from the stereotype listed in the title. Read more
Published on June 12, 2010 by F S Frederick
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely
Timely considering the fact that language, namely written generally and political especially would appear to be coming under considerable pressure from 'new' form(s) of... Read more
Published on March 20, 2008 by LT Leonard
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read on Political Frames
This is a must read for anyone in America who cares about politics--which should be everyone! If you thought Lakoff insightful on the differences a frame can make, wait until you... Read more
Published on January 4, 2007 by Herbert W. Simons
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sound of One Hand Clapping
We swim through words like fish swim through water. Metaphors are accepted as reality by many. Legends become gospil truth. Read more
Published on November 4, 2006 by Tony C. Devine
5.0 out of 5 stars How to tilt public perceptions
"Talking Right" by Geoffrey Nunberg is a timely analysis of the lopsided and dysfunctional status of U.S. political discourse. Mr. Read more
Published on October 21, 2006 by Malvin
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about the shadow, arguing for the importance of the substance
Government, John Dewey famously said, is the shadow cast by big business over society. And political language, Geoffrey Nunberg argues in Talking Right, is the shadow cast by... Read more
Published on October 17, 2006 by Aaron Swartz
4.0 out of 5 stars Right? Right.
It's no secret that people who are trying to sell you something will be very careful and sometimes dishonest when it comes to the actual words and phrases they use to describe... Read more
Published on October 16, 2006 by Andrew McCaffrey
2.0 out of 5 stars When Did Linguistic Professors Become The Go To Authority on...
During Geoffrey Nunberg's appearance on C-SPAN, where he commented on this book to a meager gathering at a bookstore, he practiced the fine art of polemics with heretics who... Read more
Published on September 28, 2006 by Bellerophon
3.0 out of 5 stars Wrong premise but good information nonetheless
By the fourth word of its title, TALKING RIGHT: HOW CONSERVATIVES TURNED LIBERALISM INTO A TAX-RAISING . . . FREAK SHOW, this Geoffrey Nunberg stumbles. Read more
Published on September 3, 2006 by J. L LaRegina
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