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Geoffrey Nunberg can make one quite self conscious to write even a simple sentence. And yes, that is a compliment. A regular language commentator on NPR's Fresh Air, Nunberg examines the curious ways in which the modern language expresses far more about history, politics, and culture than most casual English users would ever realize. Going Nucular, besides having one of the more whimsical titles to come along in a while, offers up scores of chapters, each examining specific words, phrases, or verbal tendencies. And while words like "terrorism", "fascism", "appeasement", and "Caucasian" (and even the hapless "like" and "ain't") are tossed about regularly in contemporary usage, achieving an understanding of their origin and evolution can serve to better explain not just the word but the issue to which it is attached. Other language books have become popular among the "grammarati" for their hard line approach but Nunberg seeks to explore and understand rather than to enforce and punish. To that end, he defends "blog" as being a verb and noun that has earned its place in the language; it's very phonetic clunkiness being part of the appeal. And though he can diagram a sentence with the best of them, Nunberg is at his most delightful when shining a harsh lingual light on the ways in which the average person encounters words every day. A stinging and hilarious indictment of TV news' weird obsession with the present tense ("In North Dakota, high winds making life difficult") makes the reader hear the evening news in an entirely new way. Going Nucular is much more than a nudge and a wisecrack to self-appointed word cops, it's an insider's tour of the vernacular by the English teacher you only wish you had. --John Moe [via]