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Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean Paperback – August 12, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"...Challenges the reader to think about his or her own speech in an entirely new way." Publishers Weekly
"Mr. Erard's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. He gets you wondering about blundering." Wall Street Journal
"...An absorbing survey of the (mis)spoken word, from ancient Egyptian cases of speechlessness to television bloopers..." O Magazine
"...A fascinating look at those two-letter words we all know and, uh, overuse." GQ
You can feel when an author is enjoying himself, and Erard's survey of these most common of dysfunctions in our dysfunctional society is written with unexpected humor, grace and high spirits." Louisville Courier-Journal
"...A nifty little book." Charleston Post and Courier
“An enjoyable tour of linguistic mishaps. . . . Rewarding. . . . It reveals the dynamic nature of the human mind.”—The New York Times Book Review“Engaging. . . . By focusing on what many of us overlook (or underhear?), Erard has further revealed the complexity and beauty of language. Perhaps he will make all of us both better listeners and, um, better speakers.”—The Seattle Times“A fascinating look at those two-letter words we all know and, uh, overuse.”—GQ“Erard's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. He gets you wondering about blundering.”—The Wall Street Journal“Some people are bird watchers and learn a great deal about the birds they watch. Michael Erard watches word botchers and, in the process, enriches our experience of what language is about and what makes us human. After reading Um…, you'll never hear the thud and blunder of everyday speech in the same way.”—Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English“Who'd have thought that a book called Um could be a page-turner? But Michael Erard's investigtions of "applied blunderology" come to something more than the familiar catalogues of verbal slips and gaffes from the high and the low. It's also a fascinating meditation on why blunders happen, and what they tell us about language and ourselves. At its deepest level, Um is an exercise in the zen of attention, which tunes us in to the revealing noises and pauses that we spend most of our time tuning out.”—Geoffrey Nunberg, NPR commentator“A lascinating fook at yet another revealing instance of human imperfection.”—Kirkus (Starred Review)“Included throughout are hilarious highlight reels of bloopers, boners, Spoonerisms, malapropisms and ‘eggcorns'... His work challenges the reader to think about his or her own speech in an entirely new way."—Publishers Weekly
Top Customer Reviews
What do all these "ums" mean? Not anxiety. One of the earliest products of "disfluency research" was that the number of filler words has no correlation with the level of anxiety. It might be that "um" isn't an error, but a means that a speaker has of signaling a listener that a delay is coming, perhaps a hunt for an important word or concept, and in this way the speaker is inviting the listener to keep up with not only the stream of thought but the process of thinking. If "um" plays a linguistic role, then perhaps it is not really an error, and Erard documents that there was no campaign to eliminate "um" until the early twentieth century. The book's subtitle hints that there is more to it than just "um", and there is much more, starting with an amusing portrait of the 19th-century Oxford don Rev. William Archibald Spooner who was famous for transposing word sounds. "You have tasted a worm", he is supposed to have said, when he wished to say, "You have wasted a term." Many of his supposed sayings he didn't say at all, and many of his colleagues said they never heard any. People have made vast lists of spoonerisms (as they have of every other sort of verbal error), and the lists reflect that something orderly is going on even in such a verbal pratfall. In verbal slips, we are more likely to fluff the initial sound, for instance, and the initial syllable of a word, and the syllable that gets the emphasis. If we misspeak and insert a wrong word, it is not likely to be a nonsense word, and we almost always insert a noun for a noun, a verb for a verb, and so on. Freudian slips are covered here, but researchers are demonstrating that these mistakes are a linguistic, rather than a neurotic, manifestation.
Erard covers a pleasing range of language gaffs, and part of the appeal of the book is that everyone will recognize the errors he describes. Erard covers the career of Kermit Schaefer, who did not invent the term "blooper", but who collected enough funny radio and television mistakes to became the "King of Bloopers", and to make a fortune on how much we enjoy the amusing verbal mistakes of people who use language professionally. He tells of the research of Stanford's Arnold Zwicky on "eggcorns", a term which unites "egg" and "corn" for a malapropism for "acorn". Like "very close veins" for "varicose veins", these are slips of the tongue that have become ossified so that the individual using the term thinks it is correct. In Shanghai, Erard visits the company Saybot which makes software to help Chinese keep from mangling English. An enjoyable penultimate chapter is wickedly called "President Blunder", but is actually pretty gentle on the famous gaffes of George W. Bush. No one knows, for instance, if the president who is famous for such sayings as "You're working hard to keep food on your family" actually makes more verbal errors than any of his predecessors, or more than other people in general. Erard points out that it is fundamentally wrong to criticize "how smart or competent or moral a person is because he or she doesn't speak like you do" but on the other hand it is wrong to praise the authenticity of error-prone speech when the excellence of error-free speech is an ideal (if unattainable) goal. The surprise is that if we magically managed to eliminate all our errors of speaking, we would lose this window into the mysterious inner workings of our capacity for language.
Erard, the author, makes his case that verbal errors are part of the language. Just yesterday, I heard a BBC commentary state that 'this is a bridge we will have to gulf'. Erard starts with Spooner (now that you are jawfully loined) and shows the development of a theory of slips of the tongue and other, um, errors.
This is a serious linguistic work. If you enjoy indignation at 'these degenerate days', read D-ck C-v-tt and his ilk.
Ever since a friend of mine asked me at dinner years ago, "when will our waiter soove the serp?", I've been fascinated by the oddities that fly from innocent mouths. Erard categorizes these verbal miscues into all sorts of arrangements and a glossary at the end of the book is helpful in reminding the reader what material has been covered. The author looks at two areas that were of particular interest...how slips of the tongue differ in other languages and cultures and how children handle pauses and perseverations (for example) at various stages of their fluency development.
Erard has a clear and nicely-paced narrative style making "Um" such an enjoyable book. An appealing sequel would be one that comments on the three current presidential candidates and their varying contributions to public discourse, relative to what the author has written here. The next time I have my own slip of the ear (as when I heard someone say "grocery seats" when they meant "gross receipts") I'll refer back to "Um" and have a good laugh all over again.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It used to be that people ignored the 'um'.
Then Freud said its a sign of deep seated anxiety.Read more