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

Extended Audio Sample Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years, by Geoffrey Nunberg Click for printable size audiobook cover
0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Geoffrey Nunberg Narrator: Francis J. Spieler, Kate Udal Publisher: Tantor Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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It first surfaced in the gripes of GIs during World War II and was captured early on by the typewriter of a young Norman Mailer. Within a generation it had become a basic notion of our everyday moral life, replacing older reproaches like lout and heel with a single inclusive category—a staple of country outlaw songs, Neil Simon plays, and Woody Allen movies. Feminists made it their stock rebuke for male insensitivity, the est movement used it for those who didn’t “get it,” and Dirty Harry applied it evenhandedly to both his officious superiors and the punks he manhandled.

The asshole has become a focus of collective fascination for us, just as the phony was for Holden Caulfield and the cad was for Anthony Trollope. From Donald Trump to Ann Coulter, from Mel Gibson to Anthony Weiner, from the reality TV prima donnas to the internet trolls and flamers, assholism has become the characteristic form of modern incivility, which implicitly expresses our deepest values about class, relationships, authenticity, and fairness. We have conflicting attitudes about the A-word—when a presidential candidate unwittingly uttered it on a live mic in 2000, it confirmed to some that he was a man of the people and to others that he was a boor. But considering how much the word does for us, and to us, it hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves—at least until now.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Nunberg brings all his scholarly oomph to examining the traits that earn one an A-hole label in our culture…Quirky scholarship at its best.”

    Toronto Star

  • “An engaging blend of linguistics, analysis, and social commentary that breaks down the important place the word asshole occupies in our language and culture…In the end, Nunberg makes an entertaining and thought-provoking case for the importance and power of a ‘dirty’ word.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Only an asshole would say this book is offensive. Sure, it uses the A-word a lot, but this is no cheap attempt to get laughs written by a B-list stand-up comic. The author…undertakes a serious examination of not just the word, but also the concept surrounding it (known as assholism, a type of behavior with, it seems, pretty clear markers)…An intelligent and wide-ranging study of linguistics, ideas, and social trends.”


  • “A witty and politically charged analysis of a potent obscenity in its modern and contemporary context.”

    Kirkus Reviews

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About the Author

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, is a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information. Since 1987, he has done a language feature on NPR’s Fresh Air, and his commentaries have appeared in the New York Times and many other publications. He is the emeritus chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and a winner of the Linguistic Society of America’s Language and the Public Interest Award. His previous books include Talking Right and Going Nucular. Nunberg lives in San Francisco.