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Slam Dunks and No-brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, like, Whateverby Leslie Savan
Synopses & Reviews
Here's the Deal
From the tough-guy kick ass to the airless opt, from the high-strung Hel-lo? to the laidback hey, from the withering whatever to the triumphant Yesss , an army of brave new words is occupying our social life with coast-to-coast attitude. The catchwords, phrases, inflections, and quickie concepts that Americans seem unable to communicate without have grown into a verbal kudzu, overlaying regional differences with a national (even an international) pop accent that tells us more about how we think than we think.
What makes a word a pop word? First of all, we're not talking mere cliches. Most pop phrases are indeed cliches--that is, hackneyed or trite. But a pop phrase packs more rhetorical oomph and social punch than a conventional cliche. It's the difference, say, between It's as plain as the nose on your face and Duh, between old hat and so five minutes ago, Pop is the elite corps of cliches.
Nor is the pop vocabulary simply a collection of slang. Some pop phrases, like bling bling or fashionista, may technically be slang, or nonstandard and probably transient English. But most pop speech today is made up of perfectly ordinary and permanent words, like don't go there and hello, It's how our tongues twist them that changes everything.
Here's my definition: Pop language is, most obviously, verbal expression that is widely popular and is part of popular culture. Beyond that, it's language that pops out of its surround; conveys more attitude than literal meaning; pulses with a sense of an invisible chorus speaking it, too; and, when properly inflected, pulls attention, and probably consensus, its way. (And if it does most ofthe above, it gives you a reward: a satisfying pop.)
There have always been popular catchphrases, of course, and in the everyday jungle of small talk, they've always been used as verbal machetes, proven tools for cutting through confusion--as well as for showing off, fitting in, dishing dirt, shutting someone up, flirting, and fighting. But today, as the media repeat and glamorize buzzphrases constantly, the ability to spout a catchy word or two has become a more highly valued skill--a social equalizer, a sign that you, too, share the up-to-date American personality.
Or, to put that in pop: These phrases are our go-to guys--whether flashing bling or singing Ka-ching , they get the job done.
And everybody has them working. Coming off a spate of fund-raisers in 2003, George W. Bush appeared on The Tonight Show and joked to Leno about the audience: These folks didn't pay five grand apiece to get in here? I'm outta here As John Kerry took the controls of a helicopter on a campaign hop in Iowa, he shouted, Rock 'n' roll And, of course, both men said (Bush of Iraqi insurgents, Kerry of Bush's attacks on his record), Bring 'em on As it turns out, AARP-eligible presidential candidates are not so far removed, ideal-American-personality-wise, from babelicious Gen X actresses, like Cameron Diaz, who told Demi Moore in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Bring it on, bitch
Light, self-conscious, and theatrical, chockful of put-downs and exaggerated inflections, today's pop talk projects a personality that has mastered the simulation of conversation. It's a sort of air guitar for the lips, seeking not so much communication as a confirmation that . . . hey, we'recool.
Human communication may seem to hold greater possibilities than that, but the first obligation of pop language is not to help us plumb li
In this marvelously original book, three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Leslie Savan offers fascinating insights into why we're all talking the talk-Duh; Bring it on ; Bling;Whatever -and what this reveals about America today. Savan traces the paths that phrases like these travel from obscure slang to pop stardom, selling everything from cars (ads for VWs, Mitsubishis, and Mercurys all pitch them as no-brainers) to wars (finding WMD in Iraq was to be a slam dunk). Real people create these catchy phrases, but once media, politics, and businesses broadcast them, they burst out of our mouths as celebrity words, newly glamorous and powerful. Witty, fun, and full of thought-provoking stories about the origins of popular expressions, Slam Dunks and No-Brainers is for everyone who loves the mysteries of language.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Explores the continuously evolving mysteries and complexities of the English language from the perspective of what popular idioms reveal about American society and culture.
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.
Table of Contents
Prologue : Are we having fun yet? — Here's the deal — Pop talk is history — What's black, then white, and said all over? — Don't even think about telling me "I don't think so" : the media, meanness, and me — The great American yesss! — Populist pop and the regular guy — The community of commitment-centered words — Digit talk in the Unit States of America — Epilogue : It's like, you know, the end.
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