Show for Nov 18, 2012. Geoffrey Nunberg and Ascent of the A-Word.
Oh sure I could trot out all sorts of cheap double entendres. I could describe the linguist Geoff Nunberg as one of our most penetrating critics. I could say his book Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years opens a rear window on the last century of changing social norms, and that it’s a bravura feat of bottom-up cultural history. But people would think I’m being flip, when the praise is sincere. “The essay is at its best,” Geoff told me, “when you’re noodling over some really trivial thing and in the course of your thinking are led to all sorts of interesting insights.” So: Montaigne on friendship, Thoreau on walking, Chesterton on a piece of chalk, Barthes on steak and french fries, and Nunberg on “asshole.” Geoff and I talked about the word as insult and syndrome (“assholism”), its surprisingly recent emergence, its role in public life and its linkage to American notions of populism, authenticity and therapeutic self-awareness. This is the uncensored version of the original on-air broadcast, which may have set a record for bleepage on public radio.
You can download the MP3 here (if using a Mac, control-click the link and choose “Save Link As…” If using a PC, right-click and choose Save Target As…”)