Geoff Nunberg http://kcur.org en Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn't Mean Much http://kcur.org/post/do-feelings-compute-if-not-turing-test-doesnt-mean-much To judge from some of the <a href="http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/national/news/11264062._Super_computer__passes_Turing_Test/">headlines,</a> it was a very big deal. At an event held at the Royal Society in London, for the first time ever, a computer passed the Turing Test, which is widely taken as the benchmark for saying a machine is engaging in intelligent thought. But like the other much-hyped triumphs of artificial intelligence, this one wasn't quite what it appeared. Computers can do things that seem quintessentially human, but they usually take a different path to get there. Tue, 01 Jul 2014 19:36:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 58228 at http://kcur.org Do Feelings Compute? If Not, The Turing Test Doesn't Mean Much 150 Years After Marx, 'Capital' Still Can't Shake Loose Of 'Das Kapital' http://kcur.org/post/150-years-after-marx-capital-still-cant-shake-loose-das-kapital A lot of things had to come together to turn Thomas Piketty's controversial <em>Capital in the Twenty-First Century</em> into the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/27/fashion/Thomas-Piketty-the-Economist-Behind-Capital-in-the-Twenty-First-Century-sensation.html?_r=0">tome of the season</a>. There's its timeliness, its surprising accessibility and the audacity of its thesis, that capitalism inevitably leads to greater concentrations of wealth at the very top. Tue, 27 May 2014 18:54:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 56395 at http://kcur.org 150 Years After Marx, 'Capital' Still Can't Shake Loose Of 'Das Kapital' Hackers? Techies? What To Call San Francisco's Newcomers http://kcur.org/post/hackers-techies-what-call-san-franciscos-newcomers "There goes the neighborhood." Every so often that cry goes up in San Francisco, announcing a new chapter in American cultural history, as the rest of the country looks on. There were the beats in North Beach, then the hippies in the Haight, then the gays in the Castro. Now it's the turn of the techies who are pouring into my own Mission neighborhood, among other places. Thu, 16 Jan 2014 19:21:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 49861 at http://kcur.org Hackers? Techies? What To Call San Francisco's Newcomers Sorry Assiduous (adj.) SAT-Takers, Linguist In Dudgeon (n.) Over Vocab Flashcards http://kcur.org/post/sorry-assiduous-adj-sat-takers-linguist-takes-umbrage-n-vocab-flashcards When I took the SATs a very long time ago, it didn't occur to us to cram for the vocabulary questions. Back then, the A in SAT still stood for "aptitude," and most people accepted the wholesome fiction that the tests were measures of raw ability that you couldn't prepare for — "like sticking a dipstick into your brain," one College Board researcher said.<p>It wasn't until the test-prep industry took off a few years later that people realized you could work the system, and students began boning up on the words that were likely to appear on the exam. Mon, 23 Dec 2013 18:53:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 48781 at http://kcur.org Sorry Assiduous (adj.) SAT-Takers, Linguist In Dudgeon (n.) Over Vocab Flashcards Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year http://kcur.org/post/narcissistic-or-not-selfie-nunbergs-word-year I feel a little defensive about choosing "selfie" as my Word of the Year for 2013. I've usually been partial to words that encapsulate one of the year's major stories, such as "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/12/07/143265669/occupy-geoff-nunbergs-2011-word-of-the-year">occupy</a>" or "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/12/20/167702665/geoff-nunbergs-word-of-the-year-big-data">big data</a>." Or "privacy," which is the word Dictionary.com chose this year. Thu, 19 Dec 2013 16:26:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 48592 at http://kcur.org Narcissistic Or Not, 'Selfie' Is Nunberg's Word Of The Year Was Rand Paul's Plagiarism Dishonest Or A Breach Of Good Form? http://kcur.org/post/did-rand-paul-commit-plagiarism-or-just-faux-pas Even taken together, the charges didn't seem to amount to that big a deal — just a matter of quoting a few factual statements and a Wikipedia passage without attributing them. But as Rand Paul discovered, the word "plagiarism" can still rouse people to steaming indignation. Samuel Johnson called plagiarism the most reproachful of literary crimes, and the word itself began as the name of a real crime. In Roman law, a plagiarius was someone who abducted a child or a slave — it's from "plaga," the Latin word for a net or a snare. Tue, 12 Nov 2013 18:11:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 46709 at http://kcur.org Was Rand Paul's Plagiarism Dishonest Or A Breach Of Good Form? The Internet's 'Twerk' Effect Makes Dictionaries Less Complete http://kcur.org/post/internets-twerk-effect-makes-dictionaries-less-complete Evidently it was quite fortuitous. Just a couple of days after MTV's Video Music Awards, <a href="http://goo.gl/wqIzKX">Oxford Dictionaries Online</a> released its quarterly list of the new words it was adding. To the delight of the media, there was "twerk" at the top, which gave them still another occasion to link a story to Miley Cyrus' energetic high jinks.<p>And why not add "twerk"? It's definitely a cool word, which worked its way from New Orleans bounce music into the linguistic mainstream on the strength of its expressive phonetics, among other things. Thu, 12 Sep 2013 18:30:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 43542 at http://kcur.org Bracing For Google Glass: An In-Your-Face Technology http://kcur.org/post/bracing-google-glass-your-face-technology The likes of you and I can't buy <a href="http://www.techradar.com/us/news/video/google-glass-what-you-need-to-know-1078114">Google Glass</a> yet. It's available only to the select developers and opinion-makers who have been permitted to spring $1,500 for the privilege of having the first one on the block. But I've seen a few around my San Francisco neighborhood among the young techies who commute down to the Google and Facebook campuses in WiFi-equipped shuttle buses or who pedal downtown to Zynga and Twitter on their fixies.<p>You've probably seen pictures of one of these. Mon, 05 Aug 2013 18:22:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 41437 at http://kcur.org Bracing For Google Glass: An In-Your-Face Technology Calling It 'Metadata' Doesn't Make Surveillance Less Intrusive http://kcur.org/post/calling-it-metadata-doesnt-make-surveillance-less-intrusive "This is just metadata. There is no content involved." That was how Sen. Dianne Feinstein <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/06/06/transcript-dianne-feinstein-saxby-chambliss-explain-defend-nsa-phone-records-program/" target="_blank">defended</a> the NSA's blanket surveillance of Americans' phone records and Internet activity. Before those revelations, not many people had heard of metadata, the term librarians and programmers use for the data that describes a particular document or record it's linked to. Fri, 21 Jun 2013 18:00:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 38943 at http://kcur.org Calling It 'Metadata' Doesn't Make Surveillance Less Intrusive 'Horrific' And 'Surreal': The Words We Use To Bear Witness http://kcur.org/post/horrific-and-surreal-words-we-use-bear-witness Mass shootings, bus crashes, tornadoes, terrorist attacks — we've gotten adept at talking about these things. Act of God or act of man, they're all horrific. At least that was the word you kept hearing from politicians and newscasters describing the Boston bombings and the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas.<p>That may not strike you as surprising — the events were horrific, weren't they? But it's actually a new way of describing things. "Horrific" is an old word; it turns up in Thackeray and Melville. But until recent times it was rare and literary. Fri, 26 Apr 2013 15:51:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 35751 at http://kcur.org 'Horrific' And 'Surreal': The Words We Use To Bear Witness Even Dictionaries Grapple With Getting 'Marriage' Right http://kcur.org/post/even-dictionaries-grapple-getting-marriage-right It's a funny thing about dictionaries. First we're taught to revere them, then we have to learn to set them aside. Nobody ever went wrong starting a middle-school composition with, "According to Webster's ..." but that's not how you start an op-ed commentary about terrorism or racism. Thu, 04 Apr 2013 17:23:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 34574 at http://kcur.org Even Dictionaries Grapple With Getting 'Marriage' Right Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter? http://kcur.org/post/historical-vocab-when-we-get-it-wrong-does-it-matter Has there ever been an age that was so grudging about suspending its disbelief? The groundlings at the Globe Theatre didn't giggle when Shakespeare had a clock chime in <a href="http://goo.gl/07bvN">Julius Caesar</a>. The Victorians didn't take Dickens to task for having the characters in <em>A</em> <em>Tale of Two Cities </em>ride the Dover mail coach 10 years before it was established. But Shakespeare and Dickens weren't writing in the age of the Internet, when every historical detail is scrutinized for chronological correctness, and when no "Gotcha!" remains unposted for long. Tue, 26 Feb 2013 20:05:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 32600 at http://kcur.org Historical Vocab: When We Get It Wrong, Does It Matter? "The Whole Nine Yards" Of What? http://kcur.org/post/whole-nine-yards-what Where does the phrase "the whole nine yards" come from? In 1982, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/03/magazine/on-language.html?n=Top%2fFeatures%2fMagazine%2fColumns%2fOn%20Language">William Safire</a> called that "one of the great etymological mysteries of our time."<p>He thought the phrase originally referred to the capacity of a cement truck in cubic yards. Mon, 14 Jan 2013 16:19:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 30367 at http://kcur.org "The Whole Nine Yards" Of What? Geoff Nunberg's Word Of The Year: Big Data http://kcur.org/post/geoff-nunbergs-word-year-big-data "Big Data" hasn't made any of the words-of-the-year lists I've seen so far. That's probably because it didn't get the wide public exposure given to items like "<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/10/28/163812770/hurricane-csi-frankenstorm-sandy-and-climate-change">frankenstorm</a>," "<a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/11/13/165057230/armadebton-and-other-alternatives-to-fiscal-cliff">fiscal cliff</a>" and <a href="http://www.npr.org/2012/09/02/160472966/new-teen-buzzwod-yolo">YOLO</a>. Thu, 20 Dec 2012 19:35:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 29334 at http://kcur.org Geoff Nunberg's Word Of The Year: Big Data Even Americans Find Some Britishisms 'Spot On' http://kcur.org/post/even-americans-find-some-britishisms-spot Mitt Romney was on CNN not long ago defending the claims in his campaign ads — "We've been absolutely spot on," he said. Politics aside, the expression had me doing an audible roll of my eyes. I've always associated "spot on" with the type of Englishman who's played by Terry-Thomas or John Cleese, someone who pronounces "yes" and "ears" in the same way — "eeahzz." It shows up when people do send-ups of plummy British speech. "I say — spot on, old chap!"<p>But that wasn't really fair to Romney. Thu, 01 Nov 2012 17:30:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 26915 at http://kcur.org Even Americans Find Some Britishisms 'Spot On' One Debate, Two Very Different Conversations http://kcur.org/post/one-debate-two-very-different-conversations When you consider how carefully staged and planned the debates are and how long they've been around, it's remarkable how often candidates manage to screw them up. Sometimes they're undone by a simple gaffe or an ill-conceived bit of stagecraft, like Gerald Ford's slip-up about Soviet domination of eastern Europe in 1976, or Al Gore's histrionic sighing in 2000. Sometimes it's just a sign of a candidate having a bad day, like Ronald Reagan's woolly ramblings in the first debate with Walter Mondale in 1984.<p>But President Obama's flop was more puzzling. Tue, 09 Oct 2012 16:32:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 25720 at http://kcur.org One Debate, Two Very Different Conversations When Words Were Worth Fighting Over http://kcur.org/post/when-words-were-worth-fighting-over I have a quibble with the title of David Skinner's new book, <em>The Story of Ain't</em>. In fact, that pariah contraction plays only a supporting role in the story. The book is really an account of one of the oddest episodes in American cultural history, the brouhaha over the appearance of Merriam-Webster's <em>Third International Dictionary</em> in 1961.<p>At 2,700 pages, Webster's <em>Third</em> was literally a monumental work of scholarship. It was the first American unabridged dictionary in 25 years, and the first to make use of the findings of modern linguistics. Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:28:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 25469 at http://kcur.org When Words Were Worth Fighting Over With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement' http://kcur.org/post/ryans-ascent-few-thoughts-entitlement People are saying that Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate creates an opportunity to hold what Ryan likes to call an "adult conversation" about entitlement spending. In the present political climate, it would be heartening to have an adult conversation about anything. But bear in mind that "entitlement" doesn't put all its cards on the table. Tue, 14 Aug 2012 15:30:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 22791 at http://kcur.org With Ryan's Ascent, A Few Thoughts On 'Entitlement' Swearing: A Long And #%@&$ History http://kcur.org/post/swearing-long-and-history Sometimes it's small government you need to keep your eye on. Take Middleborough, Mass., whose town meeting recently imposed a $20 fine for swearing in public. According to the police chief, the ordinance was aimed at the crowds of unruly teenagers who gathered downtown at night yelling profanities at people, not just someone who slams a finger in a car door. But whatever the exact idea was, nobody thought it was a good one. Tue, 24 Jul 2012 18:04:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 21560 at http://kcur.org Swearing: A Long And #%@&$ History Taboo Revival: Talking Private Parts In Public Places http://kcur.org/post/taboo-revival-talking-private-parts-public-places <em><em>Geoff Nunberg is the linguist contributor on NPR's </em>Fresh Air. His new book, </em>Ascent of the A-Word<em>, will be appearing this summer. </em><p>It was one of those moments when anatomical correctness and cultural correctness come head-to-head. The Michigan Legislature was debating a bill that prescribes sweeping new restrictions on abortion, and Democratic state Rep. Lisa Brown was speaking in passionate opposition. Mon, 25 Jun 2012 16:26:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 19958 at http://kcur.org Taboo Revival: Talking Private Parts In Public Places The Word 'Hopefully' Is Here To Stay, Hopefully http://kcur.org/post/word-hopefully-here-stay-hopefully <em>Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR's </em>Fresh Air<em>, is the author of the book </em>The Years of Talking Dangerously.<p>There was something anticlimactic to the news that the <em>AP Stylebook</em> will no longer be objecting to the use of "hopefully" as a floating sentence adverb, as in, "Hopefully, the Giants will win the division." It was like seeing an obituary for someone you assumed must have died around the time that <em>Hootenanny</em> went off the air.<p>But these usage fixations have a tenacious hold. Wed, 30 May 2012 16:00:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 18522 at http://kcur.org The Word 'Hopefully' Is Here To Stay, Hopefully Slut: The Other Four Letter S-Word http://kcur.org/post/slut-other-four-letter-s-word <em>Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR's </em>Fresh Air<em> with Terry Gross, is the author of the book </em>The Years of Talking Dangerously.<p>"My choice of words was not the best," Rush Limbaugh said in his apology. That's the standard formula for these things — you apologize not for what you said but for the way you said it.<p>Though in this case, there didn't seem to be a lot of distance between thought and word. Tue, 13 Mar 2012 15:36:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 14121 at http://kcur.org Slut: The Other Four Letter S-Word 'Occupy': Geoff Nunberg's 2011 Word Of The Year http://kcur.org/post/occupy-geoff-nunbergs-2011-word-year <em>Geoff Nunberg, the linguist contributor on NPR's </em>Fresh Air<em> with Terry Gross, is the author of the book </em>The Years of Talking Dangerously.<p>If the word of the year is supposed to be an item that has actually shaped the perception of important events, I can't see going with anything but <em>occupy</em>. It was a late entry, but since mid-September it has gone viral and global. Just scan the thousands of hashtags and Facebook pages that begin with the word: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Slovakia. Occupy Saskatoon, Sesame Street, the Constitution. Wed, 07 Dec 2011 16:49:00 +0000 Geoff Nunberg 8510 at http://kcur.org