A sprightly, good-natured, but nonetheless eminently commonsensical look at what has happened to the language during the past 20 years when the Free Speech, Civil Rights. Women's Liberation and Gay Rights movements were transforming the thinking (and the vocabularies) of millions of Americans. Wilson, a professor of English, returned to the classroom after a two-decade hiatus as a college administrator only to discover he bad lost touch with his students' modes of expression, tie had become the scholastic ""Van Winkle"" of his title. That, at least, is what he claims. Whether or not the reader believes Wilson's administrative offices were quite that cocooning, the claim offers Wilson a workable peg on which to hang his findings about language today. Probably the most noticeable change during Wilson's ""sleep"" was the widespread use of what he calls ""certain sexual and excretory obscenities."" Words that in the past had been confined to the barracks are now heard at ballet opening nights and PTA meetings. Wilson sees no cause for alarm. What he finds positively encouraging is the gradual elimination of ""the true obscenities""--racial and religious epithets. Happily, there is no coyness in Wilson's discussions of these ""bad words""; no initials followed by discreet dashes here. Readers with delicate sensibilities in this area are forewarned. Wilson is equally straightforward concerning the locutions prompted by feminists' demands for less ""sexist"" grammatical constructions. The pros and cons of the ""everybody. . .his (her) (their)"" conundrum are investigated, as well as the arguments for and against bilingual and bidialectal education. No matter how controversial the material, Wilson treats it with a fine combination of erudition, frankness and wit. Readers will be delighted that Professor Wilson is awake again.