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

Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean [Kindle Edition]

Michael Erard
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

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.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 271 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375423567
  • Publisher: Anchor (21 Aug 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #355,410 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By S. Yogendra VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Um.. is an unusual book. A chronicle of the history of verbal slips, tumbles and blunders from the time of Reverend Spooner to President Bush Jr., it is written accessibly with humour, and edited tightly so as to be free of the bloopers that are its subject. At a good 252 pages, not including the useful glossary and appendices, the book does pre-require the reader to love language. It would also add greatly to the enjoyment of the book, if the reader is curious about linguistic quirks and history. In return for all this, the author, Michael Erard, a linguist and a PhD in English, presents this work of 'applied blunderology', that aims to examine how verbal blunders happen, what they mean and if they matter.

The 11-chapter book starts with the story of Reverend Spooner, who lends his name to spoonerisms. As usual, the truth and facts stand in the way of a great story, but the truth behind the story has been told well. Especially since Erard weaves with it the story of the changes in the understanding of human cognition. A longer second chapter on the Freudian slip follows dispelling or at least challenging the commonly held notion that a Freudian slip must hint at something sexual or repressed. 'Some Facts about Verbal Blunders' discusses the origins and peculiarities of blunders and slips, how they vary from person to person; how they indicate a person's physical, emotional and mental state; and how there really are knows-better and doesn't-know-better types of errors in human speech. Erard says he is fascinated by 'knows better' type of errors and by how they get treated like some sort of moral failing. The chapters that follow discuss technical, social and biological aspects of language, and speech disfluencies; the brief history of 'Um.' and the story of Toastmasters.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better Thinking Through Errors 30 Aug 2007
By R. Hardy - Published on
Optical illusions are fascinating, because we all, at some level, think that seeing is believing, and are amazed to find in how many ways our eyes can be fooled. They are not just amusements, however; in the past few decades, neurological researchers have used the mistaken impressions such illusions give us to look deeply into the parts of our brains that process visual data. The neuronal machinery that makes the errors thereby reveals what it is silently doing when it is doing its usual error-free processing. Similarly, over the past few decades, speech errors have been harnessed to help understand the almost infinitely complex process it takes to make a sentence. That is one of the fascinating points in _Um... : Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean_ (Pantheon) by Michael Erard. Erard, who has an academic background in linguistics and English, is a freelance writer who has looked into what you might think of as a pretty limited field even for professor types. People say "um" a lot, and they mix up their word pronunciations and sentence structure. We generally ignore such flaws, no matter how universal they may be, and in fact we may be programmed to ignore them. Still, if they are universal, they must be mean something. Erard has wandered all over to visit researchers who are each looking deeply into a specific area of linguistic mistakes and bringing forth a new understanding of how language works. The result is an entertaining book that can only make readers appreciate how complicated spoken language is, and admire how it usually goes fluently.

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.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Modern Scholarship 27 Sep 2007
By John S. Baker - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This excellent book separates itself from the 'tut tut' school of writing. If you like "Eats, Shoots and Leaves", you probably will not like this book. "Um..." is short on indignation and rich in facts.

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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tips of the slongue 25 May 2008
By Jon Hunt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Erard's terrific new book, "Um", covers everything from spoonerisms and malapropisms to eggcorns and mondegreens. If you haven't heard of the last two, they're covered here with aplomb (a plum?) as are dozens of examples of pause fillers. Since George Bush seems to have increased his summer reading over the past few years, this is one book the president shouldn't miss...he may be part of the impetus for its publication.

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 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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both leisure readers and students of language alike will find it engrossing. 2 Dec 2007
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Either high school or college-level literary libraries or those strong in psychology and language will find UM an excellent survey which considers the verbal blunder and its underlying psychology. With its strong introduction in the history of language and disfluency from ancient Greece to modern times to its survey of how slips of the tongue gained new meaning from psychology, both popular culture and literature figure in a survey which is a funny yet pointed study of everyday speech and language development. Both leisure readers and students of language alike will find it engrossing.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slip Slidin' Along 9 Oct 2007
By M. Fetler - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Michael Erard provides an entertaining tour of common speech errors that ought to interest teachers, business people, or anyone whose interest is oral communication. Most people value the ability to speak smoothly, to pronounce words correctly, and to communicate thoughts clearly. Schools consider fluent speaking to be an important goal of instruction. Business leaders say that good verbal skills, the ability to get to the point, close the deal, or persuade is essential for success. Oral English fluency is an ideal in the United States. Nativist groups have tried and failed more than once to make English the national language. As the United States evolves into a richly diverse multilingual patchwork of communities, there is more and more concern with communication. Millions, if not hundreds of millions of public and private dollars are spent each year in pursuit of smooth talk.

Erard recognizes the aspirations of English teachers and business leaders, but suggests their goals may be permanently out of our reach. Even the best rehearsed actor makes occasional slips. To err is human. Speech is necessarily broken, punctuated by hesitation, delays, multiple starts, slips of the tongue, bloopers, slips and blunders. Electrical shock, beer, and Toastmasters can help to reduce, although not to eliminate the "mistakes."

Freud saw human errors, slips of the tongue, as peep-holes into the unconscious. Dark, unappeasable drives for pleasure and pain inevitably push through the veneer of civilization to hint at thoughts we are scarcely willing to tell ourselves. Freud's insights established the profession of psychoanalysis that thrives by listening for unintended meanings in speech. Erard considers the psychoanalytic perspective and discards it in favor of more parsimonious explanations offered by linguists and cognitive psychologists, supported by more objective research methods.

Cognitive theory suggests that thinking, speaking, and the translation of thought into speech are different processes. Parallel processing is hard. Errors arise when these processes bump into each other. The errors provide clues about the elementary mechanisms, inputs and outputs of the processes. Like a pilot on a transcontinental flight, Erard surveys the scientific territory from 30,000 feet, making what could have been a dusty exercise in map reading into something more entertaining. It helps that slips of the tongue are innately humorous. Spoonerisms, malapropisms, mondegreens, and eggcorns, are fun, in addition to what they tell linguists. Readers with literary interests, may also notice that writers use slips as an ingredient of authentic or colloquial dialogue.

Erard points out that speaking naturally has persuasive potential. The smooth tongued, oily orator sounds insincere. The person who hesitates, repeats and slips while getting the message across sounds genuine, trustworthy, and thoughtful. Hollywood actors cultivate authenticity. TV commercials show actors who talk like "us." Corporate CEOs and presidents cultivate a folksy, shambling, heartfelt style. Detractors and language purists may see ignorance or corruption of language, but the public feels warmth and trust. Cynics admire a new way of conducting business as usual.
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disfluencies are signs of the inevitable friction between thinking and speaking. &quote;
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For instance, Shriberg has found evidence that um is used outside of larger clauses, while uh is used more frequently inside of clauses. This is because um is associated with the same strong change in intonation that marks the edge of a clause. &quote;
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We commonly think that some people speak faster than others, but Goldman-Eisler found that someone who sounds like a fast speaker simply uses shorter pauses. Speed has more to do with the amount of time left between sounds than how quickly the sounds are spoken, which is a fairly constant ten to twelve sounds per second. &quote;
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