Booklist “Full of fun little moments that should delight language mavens…. It’s the kind of book that you read, absorb, and then think about for a while afterward.” San Francisco Chronicle “[B]y … see full wiki
Collections of essays suffer from a lack of cohesiveness, consistency, and cogent purpose, and Nunberg's collection of essays collected from his New York Times' columns and NPR "Fresh Air" commentaries is an apt example of this flaw. The subject of language and vocabulary is especially susceptible to detailed and categorical organization (alphabetical, for example, in the case of a dictionary), so the scattershot results of an essay collection are also especially noticeable.
All of which might be excusable if Nunberg's essays were more linguistic then polemic in nature. At least then the reader could place the essays in her own mental taxonomy, rather than wasting valuable time and attention to rationalize or step around the political snobbery in many of the essays. The useful and interesting linguistic content in this slim volume would be easily covered in a 90-minute lecture, assuming a professor took the time to extract it, organize it, and explicate it.
The cover blurbs quote fulsome praise of Nunberg as a "standup linguist" whose writing is "especially valuable in revealing how words inform our understanding of issues." In fact, I found his essays neither particularly funny nor informative. The only thing dangerous about this collection is giving it more than the little time and attention that it deserves.
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