Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean by Michael Erard

Summary: This original, entertaining, and surprising book investigates verbal blunders: what they are, what they say about those who make them, and how and why we've come to judge them.Um... is about how you really speak, and why it's normal for your everyday speech to be filled with errors—about one in every ten words. In this charming, engaging account of language in the wild, linguist and writer Michael Erard also explains why our attention to some blunders rises and falls. Where did the Freudian slip come from? Why do we prize "umlessness" in speaking—and should we? And how do we explain the American presidents who are famous for their verbal stumbles? Full of entertaining examples, Um... is essential reading for talkers and listeners of all stripes.

Review: More of a history of verbal slips and how people view them than how slips occur and what they mean for language.

I was excited to read this book. I have recently gotten interested in how the brain works and how brain structure can be affected by use, disuse, and/or trauma. Language is a function of the brain. This book provides a few theories, although nothing definite, on what causes verbal slips (including the old favorite Freudian slips) and what they mean for language. There appears to be not directly explanation for why verbal slips occur and that demonstrates how complex the brain is and how much we don't know about it. 

Unfortunately, this book quickly diverges from linguistic theory and turns into a history of verbal slips, which is completely fine and an interest topic. I just wish the book hadn't been advertised as the explanation for verbal slips. I am often aware of verbal slips when people are speaking to a group of people such as a presentation or in front of a classroom. I also sometimes notice that I make verbal slips. It is fascinating how television and radio changed how verbal blunders are viewed. This book did make me decide to be more careful of how I speak in the future.


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those with a great interest in linguistics or history of the spoken word. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up. I actually had the same reaction as you in terms of too much history. Though, I did feel the book sped up in the latter half. Here's a link to my video book review if you're interested: