Why do slips of the tongue happen? And do they reveal something about the mind, as Freud argued?
Cognitive scientist and linguistics professor Gary Dell, says that slips of the tongue do reveal something. They reveal a person’s capacity for using language and its components.
A slip of the tongue can be explained by a process called ‘spreading activation’.
Dell states that concepts, words, and sounds are interconnected in three networks in the brain (the semantic, lexical, and phonological). These networks interact in order to make speech possible. But sometimes the networks, which operate through spreading activation, trip over each other. Words with a similar sound or meaning are activated automatically and this may result in a speech error. A slip of the tongue.
Read on for some famously awkward examples.
Willie Geist referred to Amanda Seyfried as “titsy” on the Today Show. He explained he wanted to say she played a “ditzy character” in the movie Mean Girls. Awkward.
Back in 1988, Bush tripped on his own tongue when talking about serving as Ronald Reagan’s vice president. “For seven and a half years I’ve worked alongside President Reagan. We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex . . . uh . . . setbacks.”
When president Barack Obama brought up prison reform during a Hollywood fundraiser he said: “We should be reforming our criminal justice system in such a way that we are not incarcerating non-violent offenders in ways that renders them incapable of getting a job after they leave office.” Did he compare his own situation with that of a federal prisoner? Oops.