Slip of the Tongue is an exploration of linguistics, but not the linguistics you’re probably thinking of with gutturals and palatization. Katie Haegele’s version is presented through her life experiences and surroundings, along with some serious linguistics education. The book is short, broken into two sections: Essays (the longer of the two) and Journalism. In both sections, however, we see how Haegele uses language to make sense of the world and her place in it.
What Haegele does well is being herself. She writes with honesty and fondness for her family, memories, and relationship with language. If language is what makes us human, Katie Haegele is one human I wouldn’t hate to know.
Her essays revolve around varied and relatable personal experiences that bring a smile to the face—even when they’re a bit sad. In one essay, Haegele acknowledges that we all probably hate our handwriting, yet assures us that she loves it, for what it says about who we are. As someone who doesn’t hate her handwriting, I still find it odd when others rave about it. But what really struck me, as a writer and bit of a word-nerd, is the research and science behind how handwriting affects language. After thinking about it, I can attest that I do create differently and find a wider array of words when writing by hand than, say, pounding it out on a keyboard. These themes of word use and changes in language culture carry into her journalism as well.
While I wasn’t as struck and “in love” with the journalism section, Haegele still manages to present her subjects with a tenderness and warmth that I would assume is not often associated with graffiti, Noah Webster’s first American dictionary, or the word “ye.” Yet, she manages to spread the same clever wit and jovial spirit through all of her observations.
Haegele’s voice is fresh and distinctive, and she covers everything from how a single word can encompass an entire being, to obsolete words and regionalisms, to how different languages offer us things that English simply cannot. Haegele’s presence and language subtly invites the reader into her life and to become a part of it. Part memoir and part intellectual ruminations on language, how we use it, and how it has changed, Slip of the Tongue will please anyone who fancies themselves a logophile or linguistics genius, or even just someone looking for a good, fun book.
Still not sure? Read an excerpt from Slip of the Tongue.
Ashley Houk is an Online Editorial Assistant for Ogden Publications, the parent company of Utne Reader. When she’s not reviewing books and producing online content for Ogden, she’s probably still reading and vigorously scribbling poems, or blog posts of her own. Find her on WordPress and Tumblr.