Department of English

Ph.D Graduate Michael Erard Publishes "Um. . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean."

Thu, March 27, 2008
Ph.D Graduate Michael Erard Publishes


Um... is about all the verbal blunders in everyday life: the spoonerisms, malapropisms, the “uh” and “um,” the restarted sentences. On average, a native speaker of English makes no more (on average) than two slips of the tongue every 1,000 words. They also interrupt, mispronounce, or replace with “uh” and “um” about five to eight percent of their words.

Um... is also about how we listen. Only one slip of the tongue registers to our ears each week, and the fragmented, hesitant quality of speaking just doesn’t sound like that to us. Our attention rises and falls for any number of reasons, which suggests that we usually hear the blunders we want to, not necessarily the ones that are there. 


“Some people are bird watchers and learn a great deal about the birds they watch. Michael Erard watches word botchers and, in the process, enriches our experience of what language is about and what makes us human. After reading Um…, you'll never hear the thud and blunder of everyday speech in the same way.”
–Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English

“Who'd have thought that a book called Um could be a page-turner? But Michael Erard's investigtions of "applied blunderology" come to something more than the familiar catalogues of verbal slips and gaffes from the high and the low. It's also a fascinating meditation on why blunders happen, and what they tell us about language and ourselves. At its deepest level,  Um is an exercise in the zen of attention, which tunes us in to the revealing noises and pauses that we spend most of our time tuning out.”
–Geoffrey Nunberg, NPR commentator

“A lascinating fook at yet another revealing instance of human imperfection.”
Kirkus (Starred Review)

“Included troughout are hilarious highlight reeks of bloopers, boners, spoonerisms, malapropisms, and 'eggcorns'... His work challenges the reader to think about his or her own speech in an entirely new way."
Publishers Weekly

About the author

Michael Erard is an author and journalist who writes mainly about language and linguistics. He’s currently at work on a book about language superlearners, to be titled Babel No More. He has published articles, essays and reviews in many magazines and newspapers, including The New York Times, Science, Wired, The Atlantic, and The North American Review. A contributing writer to The Texas Observer and the online magazine Design Observer, Erard was awarded a Dobie Paisano Writing Fellowship in 2008 by the Texas Institute of Letters. A short story, “Beyond the Point,” appeared in New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best, 1999. He lives in Portland, Maine and Austin, Texas. An archive of his published work is available at


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