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Totem and Taboo in Contemporary Talk

  • 6 Apr 2022
  • 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM
  • The Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park S, New York, NY 10003


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Totem and Taboo in Contemporary Talk

A Panel Discussion

featuring the recipient of the 2021 S.I. Hayakawa Book Prize 

John H. McWhorter

April 6th, 2022

Co-Sponsored by the New York Society for General Semantics

Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter⏤Then, Now, and Forever by John H. McWhorter was selected as the winner of the 2021 S.I. Hayakawa Book Prize, awarded by the Institute of General Semantics and announced at our annual Alfred Korzybski Memorial Lecture this past October. In conjunction with the presentation of the Hayakawa Prize, Dr. McWhorter will join us for a panel discussion on language and its dis-contents.

General semantics has long been concerned with the ways in which people react to words and symbols⏤our semantic reactions⏤and how those reactions all too often involve mistaking words for things. This is particularly true for the words and symbols that are considered taboo, and those that hold totemic value in regard to group identity. Language colors the way that we view the world, relate to our environment, and interact with others. In talking about talk, we can take a look at the talk that may set us off, and the talk that can set us free.

The panelists for this discussion:

John H. McWhorter is an associate professor at Columbia University where he teaches linguistics, American Studies and music history. He is the author of over twenty books, including last year's Nine Nasty Words and Woke Racism as well as Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Words on the Move, Losing the Race, and The Language Hoax. He writes twice weekly for the New York Times and hosts the linguistics podcast Lexicon Valley.

Michelle Prettyman is an assistant professor of communication and media studies and affiliate faculty member in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Fordham University, and co-founder of the Daughters of Eve Media consulting firm.

Vasu Varadhan is an associate faculty member in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University, and the author of On My Own Terms: A Journey Between Two Worlds.

And moderating the panel is Lance Strate, president of the Institute of General Semantics, past president of the New York Society for General Semantics, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, and author of eight books, including Media Ecology: An Approach to Understanding the Human Condition.

Join us for a discussion that will range from the profane to the profound!

The reception begins at 6 PM, and the program from 7 to 9 PM on  Wednesday, April 6th at the historic Players Club in Gramercy Park in New York City. 

For those unable to attend in person, the event will be live streamed exclusively for current members of the Institute of General Semantics. Instructions on how to access the live stream will be provided via email prior to the event. No registration is required.

For those wishing to attend the event in person, registration is free, but all attendees must be registered in order to gain admittance to the club. This includes any guests you might want to bring with you.

Please be aware that proof of vaccination is still required for entry into the club.

The program will take place in the Great Hall on the 1st floor of the club. Please note that, as an historic 19th century landmark, the site is not handicap accessible. Dress code is business casual and is strictly enforced, including no sneakers, shorts, ripped jeans, t-shirts).

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