What’s normal? Linguist Geoff Nunberg’s pick for word of the year

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It’s a tradition of sorts for Geoff Nunberg, a linguist with UC Berkeley’s School of Information, to take to the National Public Radio airways as the calendar winds down to announce his choice for word of the year.

If you didn’t catch him on Terry Gross’s Fresh Air program with his 2016 selection, here’s your chance to catch up.

Noting that 2016 has been an unusual year, to put it mildly, Nunberg reveals his word of the year: normal, and its many forms, such as new normal and normalize. 

“That may seem perverse for a year like this one, but when people are talking a lot about normal it’s a sign that we’re living in extraordinary times,” says Nunberg.

Normal now means different things to different people, he notes. It can mean normal, as in routine results of a blood test, or it can reflect on someone’s mental state, as when someone is described as “not normal.”

Nunberg studies the theory, history and social role of information, and has been weighing in on language, usage and society for Fresh Air since 1988.  

Some of his previous word-of-the-year selections include gig, occupy, no, Big Data, selfie and even God view.

He is the author of numerous books, including 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 (2006), The Years of Talking Dangerously (2009) and Ascent of the A-Word (2012).

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