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

3.19  ·  Rating details ·  284 ratings  ·  63 reviews
Um… is about how you really speak, and why it’s normal for your casual, everyday speech to be filled with verbal blunders — about one in every ten words. Why do they happen? Why can’t we control them? What can you tell about the people who make them?

In this charming, engaging account of language in the wild, linguist and writer Michael Erard also explains why our attention
Hardcover, 287 pages
Published August 21st 2007 by Pantheon Books (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.19  · 
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 ·  284 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Sep 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Who knew that a book about speech errors could be so entertaining? But there are many laughs to be had from the often hilarious mistakes that linguist Michael Erard uses to illustrate his theories. I am still giggling over the poor newscaster who said “Also keeping an eye on the Woodstock Rock Festival was New York’s governor, Rockin Nelsenfeller.” Ahem. But this book is far more than a collection of spoonerisms, malapropisms and eggcorns. Erhard makes some fascinating arguments that speech erro ...more
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
pop linguistics = HELLS YEAH.
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: language, non-fiction
The history of verbal gaffes and gaffers, from Reverend Spooner to George W. Bush. He discusses Freud, to whom all slips were a sign of hidden neurosis; Rudolf Meringer, who put a linguistic spin on blunders; the history of the sound "um"; the Toastmasters and their strictures on eliminating all verbal fillers; the many modern psycholinguistic studies of verbal slips; Mrs.Malaprop; and many others.

The book's thus rather wide in scope, but its thesis can loosely be summed as: speech errors are a
Oct 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anyone who talks
As someone who is a lover of language and the varied psychosomatic nuances behind it, I was expecting to fly through this one. I was slightly disappointed. It was mainly a review of all the research that has been done verbal disfluencies, and the general consensus among all the experts far and wide is (drum roll please)...that no one really knows what's going on behind our ums, slips of the tongue, and other varied blunders we make on a daily basis. Erard did at least debunk the idea of the Freu ...more
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: linguistics
Parts were fascinating, but I had a lot of trouble with the numerous slips translated from other languages. It was hard to see what was wrong and why it was important.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sylvia McIvers
Uh, who says um more than once a sentence? Why do we do that?

It used to be that people ignored the 'um'.
Then Freud said its a sign of deep seated anxiety.
Then Reverend Spooner turned the whole business into a joke.

Now linguists and other scientists seem to think that this is the sign that your brain is just taking a moment to line up the words in order, like a toddler trying to fit the red square and the yellow rectangle and the orange triangle into their correct slots. Because your brain is gen
Nov 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Not enough esoteric linguistic facts! I also dislike the cover (yes, I am judgmental and judge books by their covers) and title, since it seems to appeal to idiots.
Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I forget where I saw a reference to this one recently, but as soon as I read about it, I ordered it, as it seemed very aligned with my interests. It was a bit of a disappointment, operating neither as proper academic essay nor as fully successful pop-history or pop-linguistics. Sometimes I felt like the author was giving me too much info and other times not nearly enough, and his style seemed inconsistent. It just didn't feel to me like a final, well-made thing. It's fine, but it's not one I'd r ...more
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Mostly a book on the history of the study of verbal blunders, it didn't really meet my expectations. I expected more elucidation on the meaning - either syntactic, psychological or psycholinguistic - of verbal mistakes. As a prolific gaffe-r myself, I suppose I was looking for insight.

Interesting throughout, the last three or four chapters seemed a bit meandering and unfocused, as though they were tacked on or sent to the publisher on deadline instead of highly polished. Or maybe I was getting c
Rebecca Orton
Oct 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished the book, "Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean" by Michael Erard on October 29th, 2018. I had started it on June 17th, only a few months earlier. I thought the material covering historical texts was a drag to read through. I was expecting a deeper linguistic analysis but this wasn't the right book to read. I also do not believe that "um" is a speech error. It is a channel feedback mechanism designed to tell the listeners to wait patiently. The book did co ...more
Sep 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I'm about two and a half chapters in and I'm throwing in the towel. Onto the abandoned shelf this one goes. Part of it is my misunderstanding of the purpose of this book. I was under the impression that it deals with and explains how we speak and the meaning behind the ways we speak, especially formal vs. informal speech; it's more about various speech patterns (e.g., spoonerisms, Freudian slips), how they came about, and what they might possibly mean. Erard goes to great lengths to discuss the ...more
Beverly Hollandbeck
Dec 15, 2019 rated it liked it
I've read books about reading, books about writing, even books about editing, but this is the first book I've read about speaking. The first part of the book, a review of studies that have been done about sentence interrupters was slow-going, but then the author switched to historical data--malapropisms, mondegreens, eggcorns, and the like--and it got more interesting. But the most egregious sentence interrupter of all time - the gratuitous LIKE - got only a mention in a list of ums, ahs, and we ...more
Apr 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ah, well, I am not sure , well, you know what it all means

I thought this book would be interesting and it was , fire the first few pages of each chapter. Then I was bored and started skimming instead of reading. I was hoping that Erad would have something interesting to say.

I liked the chapter on the Toastmasters club. I always wondered what they did. But not for me; I hate speaking in public.

I learned that um and ah might mean something or nothing about the speaker, but they can tell linguists
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a hard book to rate because I did learn a lot and I can see the huge research endeavor behind it. HOWEVER, the way it was written seems to be all over the place and lacks focus. The way it's packed, too, seems to be more about linguistics than history, and I'd say that ratio is actually around 35-75. Bearing that in mind, it's not a bad book to check out if the subject catches your attention. ...more
Vincent Hernot
Apr 30, 2020 rated it liked it
It's very nice, although most of it is more discursive than analytical.
There are some very interesting bits certainly, in terms of pragmatics and even universals.
Some good research, some striking questions.
But it's also a little bit stretched, which is understandable as this is not a book for linguists and so cannot really push things too far - hence what feels like padding at times..
Pretty cool nonetheless.
Sara Goldenberg
Dec 28, 2019 rated it liked it
It was cute and I liked it but it did go on !!!
JoAnna Spring
Apr 16, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
You speak between 7,500 and 22,500 words per day and 1800 of them involve a verbal blunder. You have a slip of the tongue every 7 minutes. You "um" a lot. You make some sort of error on average once every 10 words. It's going to get worse as you get older.

This is likely why you spend all your time trolling around the internet, rather than engaged in those old fashioned talking conversations with people in the same room.

Take heart, fair introvert! Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What
Nov 28, 2007 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was ok
First book finished this year!

I feel like I know more about slips and disfluencies than I ever expected (and possibly wanted) to know. Among the more fascinating bits, it's interesting to find that slips occur in predictable ways—that is, our slips are "patterned according to the structure of the language." I always thought slips were random and totally the product of the speaker's idiosyncratic mind. But no! No wonder so many linguists study verbal blunders. Secondly, the reason we slip is beca
Jan 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Reading this book is like watching a man look for his keys under the streetlight because it's the one place he can see. The topics within the category of verbal blunders are a bit random because Erard follows the research and linguistics has only recently become something remotely resembling a science. Before now, it has been a mix of armchair theorizing, quirky passions, and dominance by one or two figures that have taken all the air out of the field. Somewhat like Freud's dominance of psycholo ...more
I thought this was going to be more interesting. I like linguistics and think the field is extremely interesting, but I was more or less bored by this book. Part of that is not the author's fault because I was under the impression that Freudian slips were "real." Unfortunately, Freud and his theory that slips in speaking reveal a person's hidden thoughts/desires has been disproved. So the part of the book that promises to explain to me what they (the slips) mean is mostly about the brain and how ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2013
"Um..." is a fairly dense book, introducing readers to the history of linguistics with a focus on the study of verbal "bloopers" through the years. I didn't enjoy it much. Oddly for a book on such a specific-sounding topic, it suffers from lack of organizational focus; the author separates out several categories of verbal slip, but attempts to sort his chapters by ill-defined historical era rather than by the categories, even though he focuses on one category at a time for long sections. It was ...more
A very scholarly text that delves into the linguistic and psychological meaning behind language disfluency. (Yes, I learned that word from this book.) We all make errors, use space fillers (um, uh) hourly. I enjoyed the chapter on Spoonerisms (With this wing, I thee red) and on current thought. The chapters that went deeper--there is not really a correlation to Freudian slips-- were too much of a throwback to my university days and transformational grammar. The best things I learned: 1. If you h ...more
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Light, fun, and slightly misleadingly titled, "Um..." is a discussion of the place of verbal pauses and disfluencies throughout the known history of oration and speaking in (mostly) English. Combined with linguistic studies on similar phenomena in roughly twenty other languages, that discussion includes the parallels to neurological phenomena and how they're reflected in our speech. I liked the seasoning with well known historical examples of mistakes, though some of the speech errors collected ...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 23, 2012 rated it liked it
This engaging book discusses the variety of verbal errors we make and the various studies that have been done about the reasons behind them. They include not only those place-fillers like uh and um, but also sentence stutters such as "I said, I said that we weren't..." and sentence correction such as "We went, some of us went to the game." It talks about the famous (the Reverend Spooner as well as George W) and the real versus the legend. Studies range from the psychological to the pedagogical a ...more
Jan 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. However, as a disclaimer, I have an undergraduate degree in linguistics. That said, it is not so academic that it would not be interesting and fun for somebody outside of the field. My background merely meant that I was able to finish it in two days rather than spending a longer amount of time on it. For me, it was a quick, entertaining read.
My favorite part was a pleasant surprise. One of my favorite linguistics professors is mentioned and her research discussed
Adam L.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intensive read

Pauses, flubs, and verbal gaffes may not interest many, but I recommend this for anyone interested in linguistics on the whole, as I was, and still am. Erard's examination of everything from a philologist's feud with Sigmund Freud to the meticulous attention paid to a president's blunders can be intriguing and amusing. It can get dry at times, but it is a good read.
Jan 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I came across this book while browsing through a local used bookstore. It helped me re-evaluate my own preconceptions about "natural speaking" and those people who seem challenged to speak eloquently.
By eloquently, I mean being able to state a complete sentence, or at least 4-5 consecutive words, without inserting an "ummmmm".

I enjoyed the wide selection of topics, from spoonerisms and eggcorns, to the chapter on President George W. Bush entitled "President Blunder".
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