Of Freudian Tweets and Doughnut Plants

Sunday, August 21, 2011 20 comments
A doughnut plant
Several years ago, I was working at a university library during a hectic midterm week. Faced with long lines of impatient, stressed-out students, I went into full autopilot mode, checking out books, searching the database and generally hustling each patron along with a firm, "These are due on..." before turning back to the queue with a crisp, "May I help the next person?" When the phone rang in the middle of a transaction, I deftly answered and put the caller on hold before they even got to the '-oh' in 'hello'. I was a model of rote efficiency.

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)
More likely, it was just a benign utterance from a stressed-out library clerk. Somewhere between my brain and my tongue, an unconscious mash-up of what I meant to say ("How may I help you?") and what I intended to do (put the caller on hold) was let loose. As intriguing, and admittedly more juicy, as it may be to blame a salacious subconscious à la Dr. Freud, my spoken error may have simply been a momentary technical difficulty:
"[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.

Take 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, there's no going back: even if you choose to delete it from the Twitterstream, chances are that at least one of your followers has already read it. Under such circumstances, committing a lapsus calami (slip of the pen, as it were) is not only very possible, but the embarrassment and amusement that follows is also magnified in the Twitterverse. Thanks to re-tweets (RTs), your slip may transmit long after the blush has faded from your cheeks.

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."
(Edwards, n.p.)
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.

Using Muji's recipe for baked yogurt doughnuts, I dipped them in 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.

To assemble the plant, I folded colorful candy liners and trimmed them to form petals, while I made leaves from ordinary green construction paper. Large sandwich toothpicks made perfect stems, which I stuck into a piece of cardboard and placed in a small bowl and a plastic take-out tray. To finish the look, I covered the pots with chocolate rocks. And that's how my garden grows!

Care to share any of your most memorable Freudian slips, tweets, mondegreens or misreads?


  • vanillasugarblog said...

    oh you know (ready for this one?) i truly think Freud was the one that was obsessed with (and had) those subtle sexual innuendos and yet he was the one that would place the blame on us.
    basically living out his desires & fantasies via his patients by giving them long, lengthy medical terms that meant nothing more than dear old Freud's inherent sexual desires.
    but you weren't expecting that? lol did a lot of research on dear, troubled mr freud in college

  • Unknown said...

    It's always so funny to read people's little slip ups - and so embarrasing to make my own (especially since I'm a writer by trade and shouldn't make such typos!!).
    But even better than those moments.. DONUT PLANTS!! These are so awesome! They would make a great birthday breakfast for a special someone. Love it! Thank you for sharing!

  • lisa is cooking said...

    I'm not a great gardener, but if doughnuts grew on plants, I'd definitely put some of those in my garden! These are so cute. Love the paper leaves and petals, and those rocks look great!

  • Jeanne said...

    I'd love one of those doughnut plants. Perhaps I'd do a better job of keeping it alive than a regular houseplant. Nah, it'd probably just get eaten. This post made me giggle!

  • it's just me... said...

    What a fun post. The donut plant reminds me of the cookie floral arrangements I used to send to my kids' teachers at the end of the school year. Of course I did not make them but I was happy to pay for them.

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Hello, fellow doughnut plant-lovers!

    Rebecca - I didn't realize it's so easy to make a slip of the keyboard! I've made some doozies myself, even though I'll reread my tweets before sending. 8-P

    Amy - Thanks! I laughed so hard at some of the examples, I had to stop writing. 8-)

    Elizabeth - My pleasure! I was so enamored by the idea of a doughnut plant that I just had to 'grow' my own. And it was a good way to break in my new mini-doughnut pan! 8-)

    VanillaSugar - Hehe! I suspected as much! Side note: I see that there's a new movie coming out about Jung & Freud (sounds like a comedy duo). Viggo Mortensen is playing the latter - sigh. Talk about secret fantasies... ;-)

    ValleyWriter - I know what you mean! After writing this up, I've been extra careful about what I've written before hitting 'send'. As for the donut plant, I think it might also make a cute dessert center piece for a dinner party! 8-)

    Kat - Thank you! I'm feeling the crafting urge returning... 8-)

    Penny - Haha! Yes, that would be so wonderful - a perennial pastry plant! 8-)

    Lisa - My husband is the green thumb in the family! If there were such a plant, I would probably be nibbling at buds (doughnut holes?) before they grew properly. As for the rocks, they are look so real but are most definitely chocolate and delicious! 8-)

    Chef E - Hello friend! Ugh about the troll but you have a remarkable resiliency and good nature about you to ignore it. Sending you a virtual doughnut plant bouquet! 8-)

    Beancounter - Haha! I understand there's even a website or blog devoted to all the crazy autocorrect slips out there. So happy you enjoyed this post! 8-)

    Jeanne - Writing this post made me giggle, guffaw and laugh so hard I started crying! Then, when I could breathe again, I ate the doughnut flowers... 8-P

    Saraplicious! - I love those cookie arrangements! Maybe these 'plants' would make a nice alternative to a cake for a party. Hmmmm... 8-)

  • Jenni said...

    I love your doughnut plants!! And guess what?! The Beloved and I handed out wee sacks of chocolate rocks just like the ones you used. As wedding favors! Keen, huh?!

    I love "I led the pigeons to the flag." Also, Round John. You know him, right? From the stable in Bethlehem. There were Mary, Joseph and their friend, Round John Virgin! :lol:

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    hahaha. Love the post! No freudian slips come to mind at the moment, but I know I've made many a spelling error on email and twitter. I bet someday donuts will grow on trees =). Especially when the soil is chocolate!

  • Lori said...

    Ha, ha! Those are still cracking me up. Social media certainly exposes us to even more embarrassment. Fortunately no one can see our red faces, but then again, maybe that's not a good thing!

    I must get a donut pan! Good thing my birthday is coming up. It's at the top of the list.


Clean Template ©Copyright 2011 Tangled Noodle | TNB