Slip of the Tongue: Talking About Language by Katie Haegele
Let me just get this out of the way: Katie is one of my favorite writers, and humans. In my head I’m writing a review of Katie herself, where I talk about how clever, sweet, relatable, forgiving and self-aware she is. You can read my fawning reviews of some of her other books and zines on Lower East Side Librarian.
Slip of the Tongue is comprised of essays and columns by this former linguistics major and lifetime word lover. Upon taking her first linguistics class,
Up until this point, I’d only really thought about the things we can make with words: the books, poetry, and songs that meant so much to me. But learning to think about what the words themselves were made of, well, that was like a stick of dynamite blowing up inside my head.
She’s not the kind of word lover who gets crazy over Oxford commas and definitions that evolve over time. She’s the kind who adores old postcards—the mundane messages and sometimes hard to decipher handwriting. In fact, she’s the the kind of nerd who has a Google alert on handwriting.
Hello Pearle! You w/ your better 1/2 come to the dance Thursday Eve at Factory. I believe it will be warm enough so John won’t freeze his feet.
Going through my dogeared pages, even though I am not a fan of the publisher, I admire their book production, design and copyright assignment—the text belongs to the author and the edition to the publisher.
The first essay in the book is about Helen Keller and how she acquired language. Like Katie, I was dazzled by Keller’s moment at the water pump where she understood that the movements Annie Sullivan was making in her hand were words.
"Everything has a name. There is a way to match up our lived experience with our desire—our need—to share it with each other, and that way is words.
"It would be hard to exaggerate how excited I was to watch Helen understand this for the first time, and the fact that her first word was water only seemed to highlight how elemental her discovery was."
Getting back to the early twentieth century postcards, Katie observes,
In general I like thinking about how, while the handwriting on these cards is lovely and the spelling is a bit better than the samples you’ll find on the average page of Youtube comments, they aren’t evidence of vastly superior literary skills. They don’t come from some idealized past when everyone was civilized and gracious, before life got ruined by TV and smart phones, or whatever. … This is heartening to me.
It’s Katie’s joy in these objects that is heartening to me. And you know what else, Katie is a metal head! She writes about “metal chicks,”
The status of these women was a little confusing. They seemed to be integral to the success of the thing—the videos, the concerts could be pointless without them—yet clearly they were secondary to the men making the music. No one ever uttered the word slut, but it hung there like a fart.
She equates sexism and flatulence.
A beautiful/intense thing about Katie is how tangible, loving and imaginative her longing is.
I am nostalgic, almost painfully so, and often for things I don’t remember. I love kitsch for its sadness, its former beauty made ludicrous by time. I love obsolete, forgotten objects. … I love these things purely, and without a sense of irony, although I used to dress up my feelings as irony—to hide their tenderness, I think.
"Tenderness" is the perfect double-meaning word for Katie’s nostalgia.
Oh dog, and how she describes the emasculation-by-naming of a tiger
…so this male tiger has been kept separate from the mother and baby. In the wild, if he encountered his own cub, he would kill it. Today, though, he’d been able to spot them both through a few layers of glass, and it had him all riled up…
"Lar-ry," [the zookeeper] chided. …
Jesus Christ, The tiger’s name was Larry. … I’d always heard the idea that “to name something is to own it,” and I thought I understood what was meant by that but could never really feel it. Looking at the tiger behind bars, I felt it for the first time. Even for a person, Larry is sort of a goofy name: A permanent nickname, seemingly owned only by middle-aged men who are somehow insubstantial and unthreatening. This animal that was never meant to have a name, had been given one that sounded like a joke.
Katie, who seems so perfect to me, also writes relatably about dealing with depression, the echoing aftershocks of her father’s death and about two thirds of the way through introduces us to her now-fiancé who fell in love with her through her book of poems, Obsolete.
Beautiful review of my new book by Jenna Freedman, the famous Lower East Side Librarian.