Geoffrey Nunberg

The Toilet Papers

President Trump, as usual, dominated the news this week, first with his “Fake News Awards.” As Ed Wasserman, dean of the Berkeley J-School pointed out in a panel discussion last year, “fake news” as Trump uses it is simply “a catch-all, a pejorative, for news that you don’t like or you disagree with or that you mistrust” as opposed to, well, demonstrably fake news, like the story,

An Entomological Etymology

Over the centuries, bug has become an astonishingly versatile little word, with roughly six common meanings and 170 slang uses. But why? Where did the word come from and how did it manage to so infest the English language?

The question was buggin’ me, so I called up Geoffrey Nunberg, renowned linguist and professor at the Berkeley School of Information, to see what he could tell me.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Angels, Protesters and Patriots: What a Long-Ago Skirmish Says About Love of Country

Lately, I’ve been thinking about an incident that happened in 1965, seven years before I was born. It centered on an antiwar protest in Berkeley, one of the first of countless such protests to come. Though just a blip in the grand scheme of Vietnam era turmoil, it seems to point to something important about America and the nature of patriotism.

It starts with a guy named “Tiny.” Tiny was 6’7” and 300 pounds. And he really liked to fight.

From the Spring 2016 War Stories issue of California.

For the Young and the Restless: Why Cal Linguist Declares “Gig” Word of the Year

Each year, UC Berkeley linguist Geoffrey Nunberg chooses a Word of the Year: A word, in other words, that was in particularly wide usage and seems to sum up the zeitgeist. Nunberg had a few good contenders for 2015, including “refugee” (due to the crises in the Middle East and Europe and along the Rio Grande) and “microaggression,” the practice of employing subtle snubs to denigrate or intimidate.

You Can’t Say That! Is It Time to Write the Epitaph for Epithets?

Pity the poor bigot. The racist, the homophobe, the sexist—nowadays, they launch their contumelies at their own peril. It’s not that we’ve all learned to link hands and sing “Kumbaya” in high, clear tenors, of course. Bile remains a most abundant humor, as demonstrated by any website that allows anonymous comments.

From the Spring 2014 Branding issue of California.
Subscribe to Geoffrey Nunberg