Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump (Oxford University Press, April 2020) collects over five hundred insults aimed at American presidents, covering the broad sweep of American history and situating insults in the context of their times and of the recurring themes of political attack. An Oregon Book Award finalist in 2021.
Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology (Oxford University Press, 2014) analyzes the public apologies of presidents, politicians, entertainers, and businessmen, situating the apology within American popular culture and showing how language creates sincere or insincere apologies, why we choose to apologize or don’t, and how our efforts to say we are sorry succeed or fail.
A Year of New Words (Literary Ashland Press, 2013) is a short series of essays and a glossary reporting on my 2012 project of making up a word a day.
Bad Language: Are Some Words Better Than Others? (Oxford University Press, 2005) is a cultural history of language attitudes—why we consider some uses and words better than others. It was named one of the Chicago Tribune’s “10 Best Books on Language” in 2005 and it was an Oregon Book Award finalist in 2006.
Do You Make These Mistakes in English? The Story of Sherwin Cody’s Famous Language School (Oxford University Press, 2009) is a cultural history of the self-education movement and writer Sherwin Cody, an entrepreneur who invited the upwardly mobile to spend just fifteen minutes a day improving their English. On Library Journal’s 2009 list of Best Sellers in Language.
Markedness: The Evaluative Superstructure of Language (SUNY Press, 1989) and The Logic of Markedness (Oxford University Press, 1996) are about linguistic theory, specifically the Prague School structuralist concept of asymmetry between opposites and its later development in generative grammar by Noam Chomsky and others.