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A marvelously original and informative book about the ever-changing American language that offers surprising insights into why we talk the way we talk.
With dazzling wit and acuity, three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Leslie Savan dissects contemporary language to discover what our most popular idioms reveal about America today. She traces the paths that words and expressions travel from obscurity to ubiquity. She describes how “real people” create slang and colorful phrases (I don’t think so; Bring it on!; Dude; Outside the box); how the media, advertising, politics, and business mine the language for these phrases in order to better sell products, ideas, and personalities; and how these expressions, now that they’ve hit the big time, then burst out of our mouths as “celebrity words,” newly glamorous and persuasive.
Words like Duh! and Whatever have become such an indispensable form of communication that they’re replacing our need to articulate any real thought. Whether it’s George Tenet convincing George W. Bush that finding WMD in Iraq would be “a slam dunk” or Microsoft telling you that its latest software is a “no-brainer,” this bright, snappy language affects us all—up close and personal.
Full of thought-provoking stories about the origins of popular expressions, Slam Dunks and No Brainers exposes the mysteries of language.
“A sharp . . . analysis of the phenomenon [Savan] calls pop language. . . . Inspired.”—The New York Times
“Savvy and entertaining. . . . The range of influences on pop talk is astonishing.” —The Seattle Times
“A super-smart explanation of modern pop vocabulary . . . studded with observational gems and conversational jams.” —The Miami Herald
“Entertaining. . . . From a crisp etymology of the word cool to an articulate defense of the word like . . . a highly readable story about rhetoric and American culture.” —Time Out New York
“Language mavens rejoice! This new book by three-time Pulitzer finalist Savan is spunky, well-reasoned, perceptive and massively entertaining. At once an examination of modern pop language—and, by extension, pop culture—and a rumination on our often-mindless acceptance of dumbed-down forms of expression, the book is sure to make readers a little more conscious of what comes out of their mouths.” —Booklist
“Perceptive and witty . . . Savan writes not so much in judgment as in testimony—testimony by someone agitatedly brainwashed in part, and in part resistantly unwashed.”—Boston Globe
“Fascinating . . . a fun book, full of mischief and good points.” —The Oregonian
“Leslie Savan shoots — she scores! . . . [She] charts how totally pop talk has overtaken our lives. Not just on the playground and in high school hallways, but among the high and mighty.” —Atlanta Journal Constitution
“[T]racks some surprisingly powerful words that we use every day.” —Steve Inskeep, NPR’s Morning Edition
“Excellent . . . lends authority and insights into the means by which words and expressions become popular or fade.” —Midwest Book Review
“Engaging . . . these language chunks are a shorthand to showcase hipness, pop culture knowledge, shared identity and a desire to get to the point.” —CNN
“A work of media criticism with a difference . . . [Savan] demonstrates the role of a certain kind of media-fostered ‘pop language’ that plays a basic and perhaps inescapable role in the way we live now.”–Newsday
“Witty and energetic. . . . This original, insightful, and engrossing book will hold great appeal for all observers of the current cultural scene.” —Library Journal
“A culture saturated with fake hipness is a culture that doesn’t know what it needs to know, or even that it needs to know anything besides putdowns. The fabricated phrases that leap from everyone’s lips add up to a managed idiocy, and I’ve waited for years for Leslie Savan’s artful dismantling job. The patience of all her fans is herewith rewarded.” —Todd Gitlin, author, Media Unlimited
“Here is an indispensable look at the words and phrases of our time; moreover, Savan’s book is 19 volumes shorter and a lot funnier than the OED.” —Earl Shorris, author, A Nation of Salesmen
“Leslie Savan is always on target, and here she is at her best, like an anthropologist deciphering the code of our consumer civilization; a physicist explaining the mysterious cultural forces that send catchphrases reverberating around the globe; a historian tracing the eternal arc that leads our every utterance inevitably from orginality to cliché. Slam Dunks and No-Brainers is an essential contribution to our understanding of language and how we use it today.” —Thomas Frank, author, What’s the Matter With Kansas?