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Publishers Weekly Review

Publishers Review reviews Um… and likes it!

Journalist and language expert Erard believes we can learn a lot from our mistakes. He argues that the secrets of human speech are present in our own proliferating verbal detritus. Erard plots a comprehensive outline of verbal blunder studies throughout history, from Freud’s fascination with the slip to Allen Funt’s Candid Camera. Smoothly summarizing complex linguistic theories, Erard shows how slip studies undermine some well-established ideas on language acquisition and speech. Included throughout are hilarious highlight reels of bloopers, boners, Spoonerisms, malapropisms and “eggcorns.” The author also introduces interesting people along the way, from notebook-toting, slip-collecting professors to the devoted members of Toastmasters, a public speaking club with a self-help focus. According to Erard, the “aesthetic of umlessness” is a relatively new development in society originating alongside advents in mechanical reproduction, but it may be on its way out already. Take President Bush, who exemplifies that “the quirky casual, whether it is intentional or spontaneous, can inspire more trust than the slick and polished.” Erard closes by examining our own propensity toward verbal missteps, demonstrating how the interpretation of blunders is inextricable from social expectations. While Erard’s conclusion that meaning is socially and historically embedded may not be unfamiliar, his work challenges the reader to think about his or her own speech in an entirely new way. (Aug.)