Books

Quick Reads: "Ascent of the A-Word: by Geoffrey Nunberg

| Mon Aug. 13, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years

By Geoffrey Nunberg

PublicAffairs

It's hard to say what makes an asshole an asshole, but you know 'em when you see 'em—from Donald Trump to that guy in the SUV who refuses to use his freakin' turn signal. Here, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg of the University of California-Berkeley briskly and entertainingly traces how a bit of World War II GI slang became an ubiquitous epithet and a moral category that's come to embody our polarized politics. Though he doesn't buy into simplistic notions of civility, Nunberg is concerned about the toxic side of assholism: When we declare someone an asshole, we're usually giving ourselves leave to act like one.

This review originally appeared in our September/October issue of Mother Jones.

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