20 March 2018

Freudian slips

"Freudian slip" is the phrase used to describe a usually embarrassing slip of the tongue. They are beyond simply using the wrong word in that we interpret them to be revealing of our innermost thoughts or unconscious feelings.

If someone said that they were interested in "watching that new show on TV" but actually said that they were interested in "watching that new snow on TV," I don't think anyone would read any psychological meaning into it.

But in 1988, when then Vice-President, George H.W Bush gave a speech on live television and said “We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex… uh… setbacks” the audience did think there was something else going on.

The Freudian slip is named after the father of psychoanalysis and lover of symbols, Sigmund Freud. In his 1901 book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, he described and analyzed many  seemingly trivial, bizarre, or nonsensical errors and slips patients had made. Freud believed that it was our unconscious mind that unlocked our behaviors and, like dreams, slips of the tongue revealed those hidden thoughts.

Freud referred to these slips as Fehlleistungen meaning "faulty actions", "faulty functions" or "misperformances" in German. The Greek term parapraxes from Greek παρά (para), meaning 'another' πρᾶξις (praxis), meaning 'action') was a term created by Freud's English translator, as is the form "symptomatic action."

A lot of what Freud believed has fallen out of favor in psychology, and there are people who now believe that many cases of Freudian slips are really more indicators of the way language is formed in the brain rather than unconscious thoughts slipping out.

The Austrian linguist Rudolf Meringer, a contemporary of Freud, also collected verbal mistakes, and concluded that most slips of the tongue were from mixing up the letters, not the actual words.

When Senator Ted Kennedy gave a speech about education and said  “Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breast - the best - and brightest,” was that his unconscious speaking or an example of a "forward error" when the "r" sound from forward in the sentence in "brightest" changed "best" to "breast"? Judge for yourself.

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