Talkin’ About Language

TALKIN’ ABOUT LANGUAGE….If I were commenting on someone else’s book review, I suppose I’d excerpt the most incendiary paragraph I could find and then hang it out to dry all by itself. I guess, then, that it’s only fair to do the same to my own review in this month’s Mother Jones of George Lakoff’s latest book, Whose Freedom?:

The result is richly ironic: A man who?s made his reputation advising liberals on how to use language more effectively has written a turgid and nearly unreadable book that rests on hundreds of short, disjointed sections and dozens of long bullet lists that demonstrate how, if you strain hard enough, commonplace concepts can all be rewritten in a way that includes the words ?free? or ?freedom.? And Lakoff?s lists make it clear that he can?t frame his way out of a paper bag. ?Freedom judges? as a replacement for ?judicial activists?? Spare me. And when it comes to the most salient topic in all of contemporary politics, the liberal response to the war on terror, he?s just stumped. In the entire book, Lakoff devotes only one platitude-filled paragraph to the subject.

As with all breezy blog excerpts, this makes a lot more sense if you read the stuff that comes before and after. And lest you think I’m just being cranky, I did like Geoffrey Nunberg’s book about language, 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. “Sparkling,” I called it, “a witty and authoritative guide to several decades of political linguistic history.”