|A doughnut plant|
Then the phone rang again. I picked it up and asked with impersonal friendliness, "How may I hold you?" Aside from the hot flush creeping up my face and the sound of my incoherent stammering, I don't recall much after that...
Your Slip is Showing
Parapraxis. Lapsus linguae. Fehleistung. Slip of the tongue. These are some of the terms used for what is most commonly known as a Freudian slip. Named for Sigmund Freud, the esteemed father of psychoanalysis who first identified these 'meaningful errors' in language, they are the inadvertent substitutions of words in speech or writing that supposedly reveal our subconscious thoughts or desires. I was immediately aware that my verbal stumble sounded more like a come-on than a customer service greeting and I wonder how the good doctor might have interpreted it. A latent desire for physical contact, perhaps? A repressed need to dominate or restrain others? A cry for mother?
|Freud's First Slip|
(Image credit: Doug Davis)
"[T]alking is a hard thing to do! In fact, fluent speech articulation has been called our most complex motor skill...
"A speaker is under time pressure, typically choosing about three words per second out of a vocabulary of 40,000 or more, while at the same time producing perhaps five syllables...per second, using more than 100 finely-coordinated muscles...
"Given the complexities of speaking, it's not surprising that about one slip of the tongue on average occurs per thousand words..."
Did I Just Tweet That Out Loud?
It may not be remarkable that slips of the tongue happen with normal frequency in verbal language, but it seems rather surprising that they occur in written language as well. Generally dismissed as 'typos', such mistakes may also be the result of the same catalysts as spoken errors - an escaped subliminal thought or a blip in our grasp of language. But one would think the time required to write (or type) a sentence would automatically result in a greater awareness of the words and their intended meaning, precluding such lapses. Surely, the time pressure found in the immediacy of speech is not present in writing - or is it? Dr. Freud would have had a field day with the slips, blips and assorted brain burps in modern communication.
Twitter, for example, which encourages real-time yet silent conversation conducted entirely in digitized word. You want pressure? How about trying to convey a coherent, meaningful thought in 140 characters or less, which will then be disseminated to potentially hundreds, if not thousands, of virtual receivers in less time than it takes to clear your throat? And once you've tweeted
A screenshot selection of such Freudian tweets reveal honest, hilarious mistakes that nonetheless seem to support old Sigmund's theory that deep down inside, we're just a bunch of horndogs. [Some Twitter handles have been altered to protect what remains of these folks' dignity.]
And this instant classic:
[This is a case of a Freudian tweet resulting from the sender regrettably assuming that readers are possessed of the same vocabulary and references as his own. His subsequent tweet explained that 'humping' is a common term used in the railroad industry. You learn something new every day.]
Not all Freudian tweets are inadvertently naughty, but they may still reveal some deep-rooted ambivalence, whether it's about the newest member of the family...
... or reassuring a friend that a food concept is more delicious than it sounds.
"I Led the Pigeons to the Flag..."*
Such amusing language outtakes are not always the fault of the writer or speaker - often, a contextual word or perfectly expressed thought is misunderstood by the listener or reader. Mishearing words, particularly song lyrics, is so common that it has earned its own term - mondegreen. The word is borrowed from a 1954 essay by author Sylvia Wright, who recounted how, as a child, she unintentionally created a new character for an old Scottish ballad in the belief that the final lines read "They hae slain the Earl of Amurray/And the Lady Mondegreen". Years later, she would learn that it correctly ended "And laid him on the green" - not of the earl's ladylove joining his tragic fate. Yeah, I thought it was more romantic the other way, too...
Author, photographer and mondegreen-compiler Gavin Edwards further explained:
"Mondegreens can be found in every area of the spoken word... [and] tend to be about primal concerns: food, sex, animals. Any misheard lyric is an impromptu Rorshach test...
"Songwriters take note: There is a large, untapped market for songs about food."It's not only slips of the ear that focus on food; slips of the eye are just as hungry. Several months ago, I came across a series of tweets from someone visiting New York City. One of the messages mysteriously included a reference to "having doughnut plant". While I failed to save that particular tweet, this one expressed my exact thought:
There's a reason why I describe myself as having food on the brain: Even if just for a millisecond, the rational part of my mind was totally overpowered by absurd excitement that DOUGHNUTS GROW ON PLANTS! Later, with sanity restored, I would come to terms with the fact that the Doughnut Plant about which people were rhapsodizing is actually a gourmet bakery in NYC. But reality didn't stop me from fantasizing about a harvest of doughnuts from my own little plant...
Notes and Sources:
*From Gavin Edwards' "Mondegreens: A Short Guide": a mondegreen of the first line of the American Pledge of Allegiance.
Edwards, Gavin. "Mondegreens: A Short Guide." Personal website. [no date]
Liberman, Mark and Ellen Prince. "Language Production and Perception." Linguistics 001. University of Pennsylvania, 1998. Online.
My Doughnut Plant
In the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, "Make it so." Armed with a Muji silicone mini-doughnut pan, some chocolate rocks and a little craftiness, I brought my zany wish to edible life.
a simple glaze flavored with rosewater and another with a hazelnut-cocoa spread, then sprinkled with nuts, sugar beads and pinipig (toasted rice). Unfortunately, I don't have permission to reprint Muji's recipe; however, the company has posted one for baked chocolate doughnuts. Also, a Google keyword search will yield enough recipes for a bumper crop of doughnut plants of your own.
Care to share any of your most memorable Freudian slips, tweets, mondegreens or misreads?