In these six spirited essays, Adams expounds on the sleazier aspects of contemporary usage--the prevalence of insult, obscenity, obfuscation, the abundance of ugly symbols: patterns which reflect cultural confusion. Both original and derivative, his ideas are enlarged but not overloaded by example, as in the opening examination of past and current varieties of insult (Homeric character defamation, Shakespearean outraged response, today's throwaway ""Up Yours"") and their implications. The verbal climate has changed: politicians have always talked past ""inconvenient complexities"" but Watergate revealed a new preference for the intentionally (and collectively) muddled story over the little lie embedded in truth. Obscenity depends on custom and taboo for effectiveness, but ""A modern novelist sometimes drops shit on his page or signals to his reader with a putrescent canker-sore, as languidly as he displays a credit card, and without producing much more of a sensation."" No longer the occasional shocker (""fuck"" appears first on p. 580 in Ulysses), its easy use has come to represent a rejection of elitism and bourgeois gentility, an alliance with the underdog. Adams (English, UCLA) considers the stockpiling of ugly images, of rags-and-garbage symbols, as emblematic of the 20th-century outlook, entering a last stage of ""decomposition."" His uncensored opinions are rousing--he groups together Dreiser novels, Marxist rhetoric, northern New Jersey landscapes, and airport souvenir shops as one kind of ugly--and his own prose is up to the mark.