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On this week’s experimental episode of the Culture Gabfest, the critics discuss the elements of language: vocabulary, conversation, and voice. In paroxysms of polysyllables, they invoke their favorite writers—and their least favorite linguistic tics—to probe the best and worst of the English language. Why should you eschew the word “eschew”? What does “shibboleth” really mean? And where is the line between a strong voice and self-parody?
Links to some of the things we discussed this week follow:
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville
- A Sentimental Education by Gustav Flaubert
- Dahlia Lithwick’s Supreme Court dispatches on Slate
- Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
- Michiko Kakutani’s now-infamous use and abuse of “limn”
- Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault debate human nature
- The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
- Walk the Line, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon
- The Cuckoo’s Calling, J.K. Rowling’s novel published under the pseudonym “Robert Galbraith”
- Nobody’s Perfect, the collected writings of Anthony Lane
- Anthony Lane is “asphyxiated by brocade” watching The Phantom of the Opera
- Clive James paints Arnold Schwarzenegger as “a condom full of walnuts”
- Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown by Virginia Woolf
- George Orwell’s collected essays
Dana: The Sounding Joy, a collection of folk carols, collected by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and performed by Elizabeth Mitchell
Julia: Creating an iTunes playlist of all songs you’ve played more than 10 times and then shuffling them. You’ll rediscover old gems like “The Size of Our Love” by Sleater Kinney
Steve: The mind-bending “Monty Hall problem,” as described by Marilyn vos Savant in Parade Magazine.
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This podcast was produced by Ann Heppermann. Our intern is Anna Shechtman.