Um. . . (Paperback)

Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean

By Michael Erard

Anchor, 9781400095438, 320pp.

Publication Date: August 12, 2008

List Price: 15.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


This original, entertaining, and surprising book investigates verbal blunders: what they are, what they say about those who make them, and how and why we've come to judge them.Um... is about how you really speak, and why it's normal for your everyday speech to be filled with errors—about one in every ten words. In this charming, engaging account of language in the wild, linguist and writer Michael Erard also explains why our attention to some blunders rises and falls. Where did the Freudian slip come from? Why do we prize "umlessness" in speaking—and should we? And how do we explain the American presidents who are famous for their verbal stumbles? Full of entertaining examples, Um... is essential reading for talkers and listeners of all stripes.

About the Author

Michael Erard, a graduate of Williams College, received an M.A. in linguistics and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Texas. His articles about language have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Science, Seed, The Texas Observer, and many other publications. His website is He lives in Austin, Texas, and Portland, Maine.

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

“An enjoyable tour of linguistic mishaps. . . . Rewarding. . . . It reveals the dynamic nature of the human mind.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Engaging. . . . By focusing on what many of us overlook (or underhear?), Erard has further revealed the complexity and beauty of language. Perhaps he will make all of us both better listeners and, um, better speakers.” —The Seattle Times

“A fascinating look at those two-letter words we all know and, uh, overuse.” —GQ

“Erard's enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. He gets you wondering about blundering.” —The Wall Street Journal

“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 throughout are hilarious highlight reels 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