Geoff Nunberg

Geoff Nunberg is the linguist contributor on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

He teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley and is the author of The Way We Talk Now, Going Nucular, Talking Right and The Years of Talking Dangerously. His most recent book is Ascent of the A-Word. His website is www.geoffreynunberg.com.

The citizens of democracies have always been suspicious about concentrations of unelected power. In the late days of the Roman Republic, Cicero denounced the triumvirate who had usurped the role of the Senate as the imperium in imperio, or the government within the government. Nowadays, the alleged usurpers go by more pedestrian names: the invisible government, the hidden government, the shadow government.

Geoff Nunberg (@GeoffNunberg) is a linguist who teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

"Great Britain and the United States are two nations separated by a common language."

Geoff Nunberg (@GeoffNunberg) is a linguist who teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

It's word-of-the-year time again. Collins Dictionary chose "Fake news" and Dictionary.com went with "complicit." Others have proposed #metoo, "alternative facts," "take a knee," "resistance" and "snowflake."

If you're into counterculture kitsch, you might want to check out the nostalgia-themed resort hotel at Walt Disney World in Florida. It features a "Hippy Dippy" swimming pool, surrounded by flower-shaped water jets, peace signs and giant letters that spell out "Peace, Man," "Out of Sight" and "Can You Dig It?"

Geoff Nunberg (@GeoffNunberg) is a linguist who teaches at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

It wasn't a serious political gaffe, but it was awkward. On Feb. 12, the Republican National Committee tweeted a picture of the Lincoln Memorial along with the quote, "'And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years' — Abraham Lincoln."

It's been an unusual political year, to put it mildly, and you could write most of its story just by tracking its effects on the lexicon — the new words and new uses of old ones, some useful, some that we could do without.

I'll come to some of these in a minute. But for my word of the year, I'll go with "normal" and its sister "normalize." That may seem perverse for a year like this one, but when people are talking a lot about normal it's a sign that we're living in extraordinary times.

It has become a familiar story in a world bristling with live mics. A public figure is caught out using a vulgarity, and the media have to decide how to report the remark. Web media tend to be explicit, but the traditional media are more circumspect.

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