(As of 9/20/06)
-- William Safire, New York Times, June 18, 2006
It’s a sparkling book, and Nunberg is a
witty and authoritative guide to several decades of political
linguistic history.... Talking Right is a fun and rollicking ride.
His is a long-overdue call for Democrats to start talking like the populists they should be. . . "Talking Right" takes us with terrific wit and eye-opening research about as far as language alone can go to counter what Nunberg convincingly calls the conservatives' "linguistic coup"... Liberals should read Nunberg for the best advice yet on how to talk their way in from the cold.
Geoffrey Nunberg's book "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" - whew! - is delightful. . . . As you'd guess, Nunberg is a liberal Democrat, but he performs an intellectually rigorous analysis of how the Republicans have done a far better job than the Democrats of mastering the use of buzz phrases to mislead and distract. In doing so, his book has garnered praise even from such right-wing wordsmiths as William Safire. . . "Talking Right" is a useful addition to the stack of books that should include George Orwell's Politics and the English Language, and a handy - and funny - guide to navigate through today's campaign verbiage.
Part cogent analysis, part rallying cry,
"Talking Right" could be as influential during this election cycle as
Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter With Kansas?" was in 2004.
Talking Right actually reads as a
rallying call for the Democrats and their army of dormant linguistic
analysts. While Nunberg is not entitled to impartiality here, his
account of the linguistic clash is amply substantiated and compellingly
One of the subtlest reasons [Republicans] have been able to achieve such huge power is by controlling one of the least known - yet important - branches of American politics: language. ... A newly-published book on this, written by the respected linguist Geoffrey Nunberg, is making some deserved waves in US politics.
Nunberg goes beyond the consultants'
conventional wisdom, using news databases and other online resources to
document just how far, and how fast, some of the core political
vocabulary has moved. Within a generation, he says, words like
color-blind, hate speech, moderate, freedom, faith, and Christian have
all been winched rightward--not just for conservatives, but for
everyone sharing the language.... Though he's a partisan, frustrated
with the Democrats' ineptitude at selling their political story,
Nunberg is no frothing polemicist. My Republican relatives will enjoy
"Talking Right," too--heck, considering how generously Nunberg
acknowledges the right's rhetorical accomplishments, they may enjoy it
more than I did.
A succession of lively chapters explains
how the Republicans turned "government into a term of abuse"; torpedoed
affirmative action by introducing and promoting reverse discrimination;
made "liberal" into a word of accusation; redefined the middle class so
it encompassed everyone from the proprietor of a corner grocery to the
president of the United States (all standing in alliance against the
effete mob of latte-drinking, Volvo-driving Eastern seaboard snobs);
invented a cultural divide that masks the economic divide between the
haves and have-nots; narrowed Franklin Roosevelt's four freedoms into
the freedom of corporations to do what they like; drove a wedge between
"patriotic" and "liberal," so that one cannot be said to be both; and,
in general, "radically reconfigured the political landscape" in ways
that even liberals themselves accede to because the right's language is
now the default language for everyone.
Conservatives will enjoy the roll call of
wins in "Talking Right." Progressives will appreciate its spot-on
dissection of the right's game plan. Those who love the language will
be awed, amused, enlightened and alarmed.
An astute observer of the rhetorical
wars, Nunberg has written a fascinating book that reveals the strategy
(or lack of strategy) on each side. Conservatives won't like his
political leanings, but they may appreciate his praise and his
insights. Liberals, who have the most to gain from this book, may find
it painful to read, as it recounts episode after episode of how they've
lost the battle.
Talking Right, the latest
from rock-star linguist Geoffrey Nunberg,
delivers not only the most tongue-trippingly truculent subtitle of the
year but also a fresh and well-argued take on the Democrats’ so-called
"messaging problem"... [Nunberg's] discoveries, both linguistic
and cultural, help decode our current
political language while offering the occasional surprise. For
instance: Republicans buy more brie.
contains many a lesson on being a smarter consumer of
language, political and otherwise. And it is more than diverting in its
reading of the caricatures conservatives have retailed to trivialize
-- Jennifer Koons, National Journal, May 11, 2006
What Berkeley linguist Geoffrey
Nunberg is doing in this book is giving a thorough shaking to what is
universally perceived as the Democrats' current crises in language and
"narrative" in which the Right has, clearly, had not just the lion's
share of success characterizing the opposition but the tiger's and
rhinoceros' share too. Nunberg is a rough and ready partisan, not a
theorist suffering emotional frostbite. It's just that his
prescriptions for the revival of a persuasive political language for
the Left come from as much scholarly breadth as hard-headed
In his new book, Nunberg once again takes the seemingly boring and dry topic of linguistics and injects humor and insight.
How can you not love a book with the
line: "It's hard to think of any leading right-wing broadcaster whom
even his most devoted fans would welcome having as a
brother-in-law."...Nunberg's analysis of how the right wing has shifted
our entire political discourse is thought provoking throughout. His
dissection of how the Republicans have stifled the Democrats from
discussing class issues while it is the Republicans who are conducting
class warfare is essential reading. Nunberg's analysis of how the right
wing has shifted our entire political discourse is thought provoking
Articles & Interviews
"The Political Power of Words," by Dean Powers, The Nation online, June 12, 2006.
"In politics, the right words rule, linguist asserts," by Sam McManis, Sacramento Bee, July 13, 2006.
"How 'liberalism' became a bad
Star, July 4, 2006.
"A guardian of language
interprets the triumph of the right" (Interview), Boston
Globe, July 30, 2006.
"A liberal interpretation: The
current definition of right- and
left-wing politics comes out of a consumer-based idea of what it is to
be liberal or conservative," Chicago Sun-Times, July 30, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 Geoffrey Nunberg All rights reserved.