The last time we found ourselves around someone waxing poetic about indexicality and polysemy at a cocktail party, our instinctual reaction was, "Shut up, asshole." We would have been less damning if the discussion in question was about assholism itself. Thankfully, Fresh Air contributor and Professor of Linguistics at Stanford and UC Berkeley, Dr. Geoffrey Nunberg, is here with a companion lecture to his new book, Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years. The OED defines asshole as a "stupid, mean, or contemptible person," while our source for colloquial accuracy, Urban Dictionary, goes with the more personal, "An obnoxious, arrogant, self-centered male who women can't seem to get enough of." Nunberg goes much deeper into the social history and importance of the term "asshole" since its alleged conception from the crass mouths of WWII servicemen straight to the lexicon of Pulitzer Prize-winners like Norman Miller. Today, the concept is an American obsession -- Nunberg enlightens us on how it reflects our values and relationships.
Wed., Aug. 15, 6 p.m., 2012