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Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, And, Like, Whateverby Leslie Savan
Synopses & Reviews
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.
Smart, dynamic, and great fun, Slam Dunks and No-Brainers is — for everyone who loves the mysteries and idiosyncrasies of language — well, a no-brainer.
"Savan, a former Village Voice columnist and Pulitzer finalist for her analysis of advertising, is a cultural pessimist in the tradition of Paul Fussell and Neil Postman. Her target here is the 'verbal kudzu' of 'pop' language: catchphrases and buzz words spread by the media that are, she says, replacing thought with preprogrammed verbal responses. The longer she goes on, though, the more her definition of 'pop' expands to include any modern locution she doesn't like, until even words like 'agenda' come under attack. As Savan guiltily admits, her own prose is laden with such language, and though she tries to use it ironically, she quickly sails over the boundary separating skillful deployment of a well-chosen cliché or two from annoying repetition of hundreds. Her argument is further weakened by its lack of focus. More often than not, her only proof of a phrase's deleterious effect on society is a list of public utterances. Serious cultural issues occasionally emerge, like the spread of black slang to white society. But overall, this rambling, self-conscious diatribe against what Savan views as the media-marketing complex veers more toward grumbling than strong social critique. Agent, Susan Ramer." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Slam Dunks is neither prescriptive nor descriptive, nor is it in fact about language at all. It is about Leslie Savan's opinions of language...A little information makes any book about language a pleasure. Very little information is found in Slam Dunks." New York Times
"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 originality 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?
"Where's the beef? Well, duh, it's in this brilliant and scathingly funny exploration of the life of lingo. Dude, like, William Safire, and then some. Leslie Savan is so now." Randall Rothenberg, columnist, Advertising Age
"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
Book News Annotation:
The author of The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV, and American Culture examines what popular idioms reveal about contemporary society. Terming such ubiquitous catchphrases as "no way" and "yadda yadda yadda," black culture- and sitcom-derived language, and nouns-morphed-into-verbs as "celebrity words," Savan traces and analyzes the roles of pop language in communication.
Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Book News Annotation:
The author of The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV, and American Culture examines what popular idioms reveal about contemporary society. Terming such ubiquitous catchphrases as "no way" and "yadda yadda yadda," black culture- and sitcom-derived language, and nouns-morphed-into-verbs as "celebrity words," Savan traces and analyzes the roles of pop language in communication. Annotation Â©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
With dazzling wit and acuity, three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Savan dissects contemporary language to discover what the most popular idioms reveal about America today.
Toni Morrison's magnificent Pulitzer Prize-winning novel--first published in 1987--brought the unimaginable experience of slavery into the literature of our time and into our comprehension. Set in post-Civil War Ohio, it is the story of Sethe, an escaped slave who has risked her life in order to wrench herself from a living death; who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has borne the unthinkable and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.
Sethe works at beating back the past, but it makes itself heard and felt incessantly: in her memory; in Denver's fear of the world outside the house; in the sadness that consumes Baby Suggs; in the arrival of Paul D, a fellow former slave; and, most powerfully, in Beloved, whose childhood belongs to the hideous logic of slavery and who has now come from the place over there to claim retribution for what she lost and for what was taken from her. Sethe's struggle to keep Beloved from gaining possession of her present--and to throw off the long-dark legacy of her past--is at the center of this spellbinding novel. But it also moves beyond its particulars, combining imagination and the vision of legend with the unassailable truths of history.
Upon the original publication of Beloved, John Leonard wrote in the Los Angeles Times: I can't imagine American literature without it. In fact, more than a decade later, it remains a preeminent novel of our time, speaking with timeless clarity and power to our experience as a nation with a past of both abominable and ennobling circumstance.
About the Author
Leslie Savan wrote a column about advertising and commercial culture for the Village Voice for thirteen years. She was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1991, 1992, and 1997. Her writing has appeared in Time, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Salon, and she has been a commentator for National Public Radio. Savan is the author of The Sponsored Life: Ads, TV, and American Culture. She lives with her husband and son in New Jersey.
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