Nat's Reviews > Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean

Um... by Michael Erard
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's review
Dec 27, 2007

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Read in December, 2007

This is a survey of different attitudes towards a variety of verbal blunders. Verbal blunders include hestitations, like "um" and "uh", starting sentences over (reconstructions), slips of the tongue (Freudian and otherwise), malapropisms ("a nice derangement of epitaphs"), and a variety of other ways of misspeaking. It begins with an account of Freud's approach to slips, and the reaction among his contemporaries. The best historical anecdote in the book is the account of gentlemen of Freud's era appropriating his interest in the psychological significance of verbal slips and tics and deliberately "psyching" everyone they met (doing off the cuff analyses of the significance of a hestitation or the fact that someone does something odd with their hands).

The contemporary view of blunders is that they're valuable evidence for linguistics and cognitive science. By studying the breakdown of cognitive operations, we can better understand their normal functioning. The author notes that Arnold Zwicky (a famous linguist and contributor to Language Log) teaches a class based on verbal mistakes, which sounds like a fantastic idea.


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Comments (showing 1-4)

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message 4: by Michael (new)

Michael Erard Thanks for the review, Nat!

message 3: by Nat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nat Hey, Michael, I really enjoyed your book.

Got any other linguistics-themed projects in the works?

message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael Erard I have an essay coming out soon in Seed magazine on another two-letter word, and an article in the New Scientist about what English may sound like in the future. Then I'm going to start working on a book that will be the linguistic equivalent of the search for the Loch Ness monster.

Are you a linguist?

message 1: by Nat (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nat Cool.

No, I'm just a philosopher of language (still a grad student) with only a smattering of knowledge of linguistics.

I'll look out for your new stuff.

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