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Hannah’s Pick of the Week: Cultish by Amanda Montell

Creating special language to influence people’s behavior and beliefs is so effective in part simply because speech is the first thing we’re willing to change about ourselves . . . and also the last thing we let go.

Amanda Montell, Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

What makes cults so captivating? What makes them powerful? And could cult influence be affecting you right now, without you realizing it?

From ubiquitous Charles Manson documentaries to true crime podcast special episodes, people are obsessed with finding a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extremist groups. Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But according to writer and linguist Amanda Montell, the answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or a mythical “Kool-Aid”. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.

Through diving into the linguistic landscape of cults, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” from groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate to our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Humorous and serious, accessible and enrapturing, Cultish will have you dissecting the influential phrases and verbal nuances you hear in your day-to-day.

Pulling from research as well as personal anecdotes from her father’s childhood in the cult Synanon, Montell crafts an exploratory non-fiction book that would entice readers of Viorica Mairon’s The Power of Language. Amanda Montell is also the author of Wordslut: a feminist guide to taking back the English language, as well as the creator of the podcast Sounds Like A Cult, which she hosts alongside writer, comedian and actor Isabela Medina-Maté. You can listen to the latest episode of Sounds Like a Cult below!

Categories: Books and More

Tags: Books and More

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