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About John McWhorter
John McWhorter teaches linguistics, philosophy, and music history at Columbia University, and writes for various publications on language issues and race issues such as Time, the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Beast, CNN, and the Atlantic. he told his mother he wanted to be a "book writer" when he was five, and is happy that it worked out.
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Americans of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race in America gone so crazy? We’re told read books and listen to music by people of color but that wearing certain clothes is “appropriation.” We hear that being white automatically gives you privilege and that being Black makes you a victim. We want to speak up but fear we’ll be seen as unwoke, or worse, labeled a racist. According to John McWhorter, the problem is that a well-meaning but pernicious form of antiracism has become, not a progressive ideology, but a religion—and one that’s illogical, unreachable, and unintentionally neoracist.
In Woke Racism, McWhorter reveals the workings of this new religion, from the original sin of “white privilege” and the weaponization of cancel culture to ban heretics, to the evangelical fervor of the “woke mob.” He shows how this religion that claims to “dismantle racist structures” is actually harming his fellow Black Americans by infantilizing Black people, setting Black students up for failure, and passing policies that disproportionately damage Black communities. The new religion might be called “antiracism,” but it features a racial essentialism that’s barely distinguishable from racist arguments of the past.
Fortunately for Black America, and for all of us, it’s not too late to push back against woke racism. McWhorter shares scripts and encouragement with those trying to deprogram friends and family. And most importantly, he offers a roadmap to justice that actually will help, not hurt, Black America.
One of the preeminent linguists of our time examines the realms of language that are considered shocking and taboo in order to understand what imbues curse words with such power--and why we love them so much.
Profanity has always been a deliciously vibrant part of our lexicon, an integral part of being human. In fact, our ability to curse comes from a different part of the brain than other parts of speech--the urgency with which we say "f&*k!" is instead related to the instinct that tells us to flee from danger.
Language evolves with time, and so does what we consider profane or unspeakable. Nine Nasty Words is a rollicking examination of profanity, explored from every angle: historical, sociological, political, linguistic. In a particularly coarse moment, when the public discourse is shaped in part by once-shocking words, nothing could be timelier.
Why do we say “I am reading a catalog” instead of “I read a catalog”? Why do we say “do” at all? Is the way we speak a reflection of our cultural values? Delving into these provocative topics and more, Our Magnificent Bastard Language distills hundreds of years of fascinating lore into one lively history.
Covering such turning points as the little-known Celtic and Welsh influences on English, the impact of the Viking raids and the Norman Conquest, and the Germanic invasions that started it all during the fifth century ad, John McWhorter narrates this colorful evolution with vigor. Drawing on revolutionary genetic and linguistic research as well as a cache of remarkable trivia about the origins of English words and syntax patterns, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue ultimately demonstrates the arbitrary, maddening nature of English— and its ironic simplicity due to its role as a streamlined lingua franca during the early formation of Britain. This is the book that language aficionados worldwide have been waiting for (and no, it’s not a sin to end a sentence with a preposition).
This short, opinionated book addresses the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which argues that the language we speak shapes the way we perceive the world. Linguist John McWhorter argues that while this idea is mesmerizing, it is plainly wrong. It is language that reflects culture and worldview, not the other way around. The fact that a language has only one word for eat, drink, and smoke doesn't mean its speakers don't process the difference between food and beverage, and those who use the same word for blue and green perceive those two colors just as vividly as others do.
McWhorter shows not only how the idea of language as a lens fails but also why we want so badly to believe it: we're eager to celebrate diversity by acknowledging the intelligence of peoples who may not think like we do. Though well-intentioned, our belief in this idea poses an obstacle to a better understanding of human nature and even trivializes the people we seek to celebrate. The reality -- that all humans think alike -- provides another, better way for us to acknowledge the intelligence of all peoples.
Winning the Race examines the roots of the serious problems facing black Americans todaypoverty, drugs, and high incarceration ratesand contends that none of the commonly accepted reasons can explain the decline of black communities since the end of segregation in the 1960s. Instead, McWhorter posits that a sense of victimhood and alienation that came to the fore during the civil rights era has persisted to the present day in black culture, even though most blacks today have never experienced the racism of the segregation era.
McWhorter traces the effects of this disempowering conception of black identity, from the validation of living permanently on welfare to gansta raps glorification of irresponsibility and violence as a means of protest. He discusses particularly specious claims of racism, attacks the destructive posturing of black leaders and the hip-hop academics, and laments that a successful black person must be faced with charges of acting white. While acknowledging that racism still exists in America today, McWhorter argues that both blacks and whites must move past blaming racism for every challenge blacks face, and outlines the steps necessary for improving the future of black America.
A bestselling linguist takes us on a lively tour of how the English language is evolving before our eyes -- and why we should embrace this transformation and not fight it
Language is always changing -- but we tend not to like it. We understand that new words must be created for new things, but the way English is spoken today rubs many of us the wrong way. Whether it’s the use of literally to mean “figuratively” rather than “by the letter,” or the way young people use LOL and like, or business jargon like What’s the ask? -- it often seems as if the language is deteriorating before our eyes.
But the truth is different and a lot less scary, as John McWhorter shows in this delightful and eye-opening exploration of how English has always been in motion and continues to evolve today. Drawing examples from everyday life and employing a generous helping of humor, he shows that these shifts are a natural process common to all languages, and that we should embrace and appreciate these changes, not condemn them.
Words on the Move opens our eyes to the surprising backstories to the words and expressions we use every day. Did you know that silly once meant “blessed”? Or that ought was the original past tense of owe? Or that the suffix -ly in adverbs is actually a remnant of the word like? And have you ever wondered why some people from New Orleans sound as if they come from Brooklyn?
McWhorter encourages us to marvel at the dynamism and resilience of the English language, and his book offers a lively journey through which we discover that words are ever on the move and our lives are all the richer for it.
In Doing Our Own Thing, critically acclaimed linguist and cultural critic John McWhorter traces the precipitous decline of language in contemporary America, arguing persuasively that casual everyday speech has conquered the formal in all arenas, from oratory to poetry to everyday journalism—and has even had dire consequences for our musical culture. McWhorter argues that the swift and startling change in written and oral communication emanated from the countercultural revolution of the 1960s and its ideology that established forms and formality were autocratic and artificial. While acknowledging that the evolution of language is, in and of itself, inevitable and often benign, he warns that the near-total loss of formal expression in America is unprecedented in modern history and has reached a crisis point in our culture such that our very ability to convey ideas and arguments effectively is gravely threatened.
By turns compelling and harrowing, passionate and judicious, Doing Our Own Thing is required reading for all concerned about the state of our language—and the future of intellectual life in America.
John McWhorter is one of the most original and provocative thinkers on the issue of race in America today. In Authentically Black McWhorter argues that although African-Americans stress hard work and initiative in private, they have assumed the mantle of victimhood in the eyes of the public and have thereby created a distorted meaning of what it is to be "authentically black." McWhorter takes on this mentality and its debilitating implications—in topics ranging from rap music to the reparations movement, to the portrayal of African-Americans on television to racial profiling— injecting new ideas and a fresh approach into the nationwide debate on race. Authentically Black is a powerful and important book that will inform and influence the opinions of Americans across all racial and political spectra.
One of the most outspoken voices in America’s cultural dialogues, John McWhorter can always be counted on to provide provocative viewpoints steeped in scholarly savvy. Now he turns his formidable intellect to the topic of hip-hop music and culture, smashing the claims that hip-hop is politically valuable because it delivers the only “real” portrayal of black society.
In this measured, impassioned work, McWhorter delves into the rhythms of hip-hop, analyzing its content and celebrating its artistry and craftsmanship. But at the same time he points out that hip-hop is, at its core, simply music, and takes issue with those who celebrate hip-hop as the beginning of a new civil rights program and inflate the lyrics with a kind of radical chic. In a power vacuum, this often offensive and destructive music has become a leading voice of black America, and McWhorter stridently calls for a renewed sense of purpose and pride in black communities.
Joining the ranks of Russell Simmons and others who have called for a deeper investigation of hip-hop’s role in black culture, McWhorter’s All About the Beat is a spectacular polemic that takes the debate in a seismically new direction.