RIP Geoff Nunberg

I aspired to rise to the level of acumen, clarity, and courtesy of this marvelous linguist, knowing of course that I could never get close. Listen to some of Nunberg’s commentaries for NPR’s “Fresh Air” program.

22 August: The New York Times published an excellent obituary of Nunberg today:

In a “Fresh Air” commentary last year on the gender-neutral pronouns used by nonbinary people, [Nunberg] urged speakers to “tweak your internal grammar” to refer to an individual as “they.”

“It takes some practice to get the hang of it,” he said, “but the human language processing capacity is more adaptable than people realize, even for geezers like me. As I read through an article about a nonbinary person who uses ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘their,’ the pronouns ultimately sort themselves out.”

In another NPR essay, he observed that the word “socialism” has survived as a term of abuse used against Democrats by Republicans, but has lately lost some of its political zip because “the connections to Marxism are hard to discern” and its power to slander has diminished.

“Conservatives often seem to assign magical powers to that word — call yourself a socialist and you summon the specter of Stalin whether you meant to our not,” he said. “You think you’re calling for guaranteed health care, but you’re really calling for gulags and collectivization.”

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