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(Perhaps this only happens to me, but I doubt it.)

Sometimes after looking at a word for a while, I become convinced that it can't possibly be spelled correctly. Even after looking it up, sounding it out, and realizing that there's simply no other way to spell the word, it still looks wrong.

Is there a shorthand way to describe this feeling so that people will know what I mean without the long explanation?

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This often happens to me with the word "value". –  Jon Purdy Dec 3 '10 at 20:09
    
This happens to me a lot. The other day it happened while reading a question about the word "like". By the end I was reading it internally as lee-kay? lick? like? no... can't be that... –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 3 '10 at 20:51
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It never happens to me. –  muntoo Dec 4 '10 at 0:13
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I quite like 'spelling dazzle', or 'word glare' :) –  Benjol Jan 6 '11 at 10:16
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+1 Mike! Weird is a word that messes me up too. Wait... that's not right... It's "I before E"... Wierd... Werid... Wired... Werid... Weird... It sure is a Wierd sensation... Huh? –  J. Walker Jul 28 '12 at 22:21
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9 Answers

up vote 110 down vote accepted

Eureka! Ok, so it's not a single word, but it's what I was trying to think of:

Semantic Satiation

Edit: Found a languagehat discussion on this topic.

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+1: And how in the hell did you find that explanation? –  Robusto Dec 3 '10 at 20:51
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@Robusto: basically, it was a matter of knowing the phrase exists (dammit), and then trying various search terms in Google. –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 21:05
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This seems very close, but according to the linked article, this is when repetition of the word causes disassociation of the word with its meaning. I think the question is about a related yet distinct phenomenon, where intense scrutiny (could be repetition, I suppose) causes disassociation of the written form of the word with the oral form (and possibly the meaning). I'm still voting this answer up though, because this term is so close and a pretty fantastic answer in any case. –  PeterL Dec 4 '10 at 0:36
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@Peter Leppert, I noticed that too, but no amount of further searching has revealed an alternative term with a meaning specific to reading (as opposed to saying/hearing). On the other hand, I think the phrase semantic satiation is flexible enough to allow both meanings. –  Marthaª Dec 4 '10 at 0:43
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I'd think that for the brain, repeating and intense scrutiny of a word triggers the same responses (probably causes the same stream of repeated stimuli of the same word/phrase, to the language center). Most of our senses work this way, repeated or constant stimuli causes the signal to decrease, if you stare at a fixed point long enough your field of vision starts to fade to gray, and if you sit in a room with a constant noise, it eventually disappears from your conciousness. This is probably true for higher level concepts too. –  Stein G. Strindhaug Mar 21 '11 at 13:48
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Based on this NGram... .. ...I'm tempted to suggest semantic satiation is a 'failed coinage'.

Personally I think it's misleading to imply the phenomenon is restricted to the issue of semantics in the first place. In my experience it's not so much that the word 'loses its meaning'. It's more a matter of saying that almost any word tends to become 'unusual' if you concentrate on it too long, even while you remain perfectly well aware of what the word actually means.

So given that Leon Jakobovits James's 1962 coinage doesn't exactly seem to have taken off (many of the later usages being simply references to his anyway), I think it would be better to call it

lexical fatigue (or saturation, as used in olfactory/auditory/visual contexts).

This at least has the benefit of making it clear that it's caused by form of the word itself, not the meaning (which may not even be particularly involved).

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Then again, maybe it means that semantic satiation as a concept is becoming obsolete... –  Daniel Sep 27 '11 at 23:51
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Based on Martha's accepted answer, I offer:

Orthographic Incredulity

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You nicely camouflaged your answer's being two separate links! +1 –  Cerberus Mar 16 '11 at 18:51
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The article on semantic satiation led me to the French term jamais vu, which I think I like better for a couple reasons. It seems to apply better to the written form as described in the original question, and also I find it more fun to say.

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This is probably a self-induced form of aphasia or dysphasia.

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This is a fantastic question. I have often experienced that feeling. I doubt that there is a succinct word or phrase to describe it. I suggest you coin your own word and use it all over the place until it finds its way into a dictionary.

In general, when you say or look at a word too many times /too long the word loses the affiliation it has with its meaning. It starts to be nothing more than a group of noises coming out of your voice-box or a collection of alphabets arranged on a page. I had someone once describe the feeling to me as word-dissolution because to him the word simply dissolved. The brain has already understood and processed the word. Now it knows everything there is to know about the word, and has moved on.

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I'm convinced that there is a word (or perhaps it's a phrase) that means exactly this, and I've read about it before, but I can't currently find it for the life of me. –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 20:00
    
@Martha, If I had more reputation I'd vote-up your answer! –  S Red Dec 3 '10 at 20:55
    
-1 Not An Answer –  FumbleFingers Jul 18 '12 at 23:59
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"Orthographic cognitive dissonance" might work. The conflicting ideas held simultaneously being that the word you're looking at is spelled correctly and that it's spelled incorrectly.

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I looked at the Wikipedia link that was in @Martha's post and it happened to list many names for this phenomenon besides the most popular one, "semantic satiation":

  1. "cortical inhibition"
  2. "reactive inhibition"
  3. "verbal transformation"
  4. "refractory phase and mental fatigue"

The link also describes essays and dissertations in which these terms are used.

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What do you think of "lexical overexposure"?

I'm pretty sure that no such word already exists in English. You'll probably have to coin a phrase. "Lexical [something]" to be sure. :)

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protected by RegDwigнt Feb 7 '12 at 17:25

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