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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightful history of slips and tumbles, ers and ums, uh-huhs and ..., 12 Nov 2007
By 
S. Yogendra "Shefaly" (UK) - See all my reviews
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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. My favourite chapter in the book was Erard's assessment of President Blunder, oops, Bush and how societally pre-determined and inextricable from their speaking abilities our expectations of 'leaders' are. The book concludes with the author's hope of note on the future of blunderology, that we may come to watch, forgive and enjoy our blunders.

Erard warns us that a side-effect of reading the book may be that a pedant's antennae become unusually fine-tuned to listening for and catching disfluencies and blunders, not just in others, but in oneself. That certainly was my experience. I also noticed much more my own self-correction tendencies as well as those in others.

I give the book 4 stars because some chapters seriously need the non-linguist to re-read or may be, my own academic style of reading has not fully worn out of practice yet. The book is not uniform in its 'heaviness' but the slight variations in writing style mean that the speed of reading has to be adjusted every now and then. This may not be everyone's experience, but it definitely was mine.

Usefulness note: in the festive season, if you are looking for a gift for a dedicated pedant, the book would be the answer to your search.
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Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean
Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What they Mean by Michael Erard (Paperback - 12 Aug 2008)
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