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June 14, 2007

Local linguist pens first book

While growing up in Greater Haverhill and attending Central Catholic High School, Michael Erard spent much of his time hanging out with friends and going out with girlfriends in Haverhill; he made a living flipping burgers at the Route 125 McDonald’s. However, it was Erard’s first job in the Haverhill area that would have an impact on his life forever.

The 39 year-old resident of Austin, Texas left the Haverhill area to attend college. After earning a doctorate from the University of Texas, Erard quickly went on to launch an accomplished journalism career as a regular contributor to publications such as the New York Times, The New Republic and Rolling Stone magazine, to name a few. In August, Pantheon, a division of Random House, will publish Erard’s first book: “Um ... Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean.”

The book is just the latest accomplishment for Erard and currently the exclamation point on a career that started at The Haverhill Gazette when the trained linguist was just 14 years old. Over 25 years later, Erard remembers walking into the Gazette’s West Lowell Avenue building for the first time.

“It was the summer of 1981. The (Haverhill) Gazette was a daily. Bob Gablosky was the court reporter; Tom Vartabedian edited the Saturday supplement,” said Erard, setting the scene. “The writing I did was awful but the experience was invaluable, and I’m indebted to Bob and Tom for letting me hang around. Walking into the Gazette building for the first time was where I smelled printer’s ink for the first time. Maybe it’s cliche, but I loved it from the very beginning.”

Erard spoke with his former employer, The Haverhill Gazette:

What inspired your interest in language and specifically the idea for your first book?

My interest in studying the structure of languages — linguistics — came from the two years I spent teaching English in Taiwan after college. I was also learning Mandarin. The differences between the two languages, my experience learning Chinese, the experiences of my students, how the language reflected cultural categories — all that fascinated me, and I wanted to study it more formally. So when I returned to the United States I started grad school in linguistics.

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