Um: Why you sound like an idiot (CBR: #1)

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 They Mean exists to let you know that no one is immune speech errors. Not even American Presidents...but more on that later.

Speech errors fall into two main categories: a slip of the tongue - saying the wrong word or wrong sound (like "black bloxes") - or a speech disfluency such as the pause filler (uh, um, er). These errors likely happen when your brain shifts from planning what you're going to say, to executing the actual talking or shifting back again. It has been happening forever and it will continue to happen forever.

The author, Michael Erard, wants readers to know that errors should not always be considered disruptions to communication. Often, they are essential to communication. An "uh" lets your engrossed listeners know you've got more to say, but you need a second to pull it together. It may take you a moment to grab a word that is on the Tip of your Tongue (TOT - that is an Official Acronym), but that is because you know 30,000 of them, which is pretty damn awesome. And where would Freud be without the slips?

There are fun little facts throughout the book, such as the idea that hand gesturing reduces speech errors, that "uh" is one of the easiest sounds to make in English (and likely why we use it as a pause filler), that you make more speech errors when you are nervous or lying, and that when a cop pulls you over and asks you about the weather, he is probably measuring the number of errors you make when speaking about easy things so when he hauls you downtown to start the tough interrogation, he can tell when you're hiding something. So, it may be to your advantage to stutter a lot right off the bat.

Erard states early in the book he became interested in the subject of blunders because of the media coverage of President Bush II and the image of the President's...mental capacity as a result. While some info is interesting (Bush wasn't noted as a verbal blunderer until after Dan Quayle left the race in September, 1999), Erard's defense of Bush gets downright preachy at times and I'm left wondering if I just read a 300 page scolding. Did he write the whole book in an effort to make over-educated elitist Liberals feel bad for calling Bush a dummy?

Take this passage, which is related to the idea that people judge speech errors in two categories: the speaker "knows better" and just flubbed, or "doesn't know better" and their mistake was a result of being an idiot. The author believes Bush's blunders were/are considered "doesn't know better" in order to further the idea that he isn't very bright.
On one hand, criticizing how smart or competent or moral a person is because he or she doesn't speak like you do (or as you expect them to) smears a larger set of people than you'd think, including nonnative speakers of English, stutterers, people with diseases that impact their motor control, and the elderly. Liberals shouldn't talk about speaking this way - it contradicts how they work to include everybody and make sure that everyone has equal opportunity.
That's a nice shout out at the end, but really? We should be easy on Bush because there are people in this country who have Parkinson's or don't speak English as a first language? That makes absolutely no sense. At all.

For all the fun little facts and...deep philosophical questions about Bush's mental capacity, there is also a lot of boring, wasted space throughout the book. In some sections it seems the author includes excess information (like, every "Spoonerism" ever uttered) just to prove he did his homework. It takes a lot more work than it should to find the interesting stuff and I'm not convinced the book follows any logical order.

I suppose if you are looking for an excuse not to attend a social event and talk like an idiot, there are worse things to read. But, in defiance of the author's ranting, I'll recommend Slate's The Complete Bushisms instead.

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