Thursday, August 23, 2007

Spoonerisms and other Verbal Blunders: Um ... by Erard

Um ... er .... ah. Having trouble speaking or writing? Do you suffer from lips of the stung? Do you sometimes write there for their? You are not a loan. The process of communication by words is beset with surprising linguistic obstacles.

Micheal Erard is "a journalist who writes mainly about language at the intersection of technology, policy, law, and science." He has a new book out Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.

Erard talks about those slips of the tongue that befall most of us at tome sime or another. It is an instructive world of verbal blunders made famous in our own day by US President Bush's "Dubyaspeak", which led to Erard's Um.

But the problem of dubyaspeak is older than President Bush. Former US President Herbert Hoover was, for example, also famed indirectly by a spoonerism, a lexical flip by radio announcer Harry von Zell, who referred to Hoover once as Hoobert Heever (read this account as a general lesson in evidence).

In his review of Erard's book, Dennis Lythgoe at the Desert Morning News writes as follows about "Um" and "Dubyaspeak":

"Erard became interested in the subject of verbal blunders during the 2000 presidential campaign, when George W. Bush’s malapropisms were referred to as “abnormal” in media reports. Erard thought critics were too hard on Bush, because he believes all of us commit verbal blunders.

He is convinced that making mistakes in speech is not a sign of a lack of intelligence. It is often caused by anxieties — people repeat words and restart sentences if they’re nervous. Or they may simply be accidental."

That may in part be confirmed at the blawg Yayarolly goes to law school, where "a 30-something's adventure in law school writes" in "Stick a fork in 1L, I'm done":

"Seriously. I'm tried. That's really the only way to describe what I am feeling right now. Not euphoric, not relieved, just tired. And a little concerned if my speech will ever be the same again... I've been spitting out spoonerisms over the last week like it's going out of style."

For more details about malopropisms , spoonerisms, and similar verbal blunders, see these reviews of Erard's book.

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