In regards to only being able to say something like "hand ankle" when meaning "wrist", but the person is absolutely unable to remember the word "wrist". (Or "unsweet doughnut", when someone can't remember the word "bagel".)

Is there a word to describe this phenomenon of cobbled together phrases meant to bridge a temporary gap in commonly-known vocabulary?

  • Momentary aphasia or anomia?
    – keshlam
    Apr 9, 2014 at 16:10
  • 1
    Most of the answers seem to be regarding not being able to remember the word, not the phenomenon of providing a substitute for the forgotten word.
    – Barmar
    Apr 14, 2014 at 19:46

7 Answers 7


"Tip-of-the-tongue" is used to refer to situations in which a person knows a word but cannot produce it at the time. We say--when trying to answer a question--"It's right on the tip of my tongue."

  • Side note: you can translate that phrase it directly to Portuguese. Apr 8, 2014 at 22:23
  • Yet another side-note: There is phrase in Persian/Farsi exactly similar to this and used exactly in the same situation.
    – Pouya
    Apr 9, 2014 at 8:27

The extreme case is called Anomic Aphasia:

With it, you are often unable to supply the correct words for the things you want to talk about.

  • 2
    I upvoted your answer, but want to point out that the OP asked for temporary. This condition may be temporary, but it is not a momentary loss. Apr 8, 2014 at 12:16
  • 2
    +1 I'd like to see your answer combined with Roger's - aphasic circumlocution.
    – bib
    Apr 8, 2014 at 13:13

There is also circumlocution, defined here as "the use of many words to say something that could be said more clearly and directly by using fewer words".

  • 2
    +1 I'd like to see your answer combined with MattEllen's - aphasic circumlocution.
    – bib
    Apr 8, 2014 at 13:12
  • I love how that definition demonstrates the meaning of the word at the same time! Here's my more direct definition: "using many words when few would suffice". :p
    – niemiro
    Apr 8, 2014 at 16:12
  • @bib And since the OP specifically describes it as temporary, it would be acute aphasic circumlocution. Sounds like a diagnosis on House. :)
    – Roger
    Apr 8, 2014 at 18:15

lethologica is not a medical condition but just the inability to remember a word or put your finger on the right word

Word replacement? Catachresis is the misuse or strained use of words, as in a mixed metaphor, occurring either in error or for rhetorical effect.

Though a using more words than required is a pleonasm, the concept is not based on deconstructing a known word

  • Neither link works.
    – David M
    Apr 8, 2014 at 14:16
  • Interesting, as it links for me. The issue may be resolved by clearing your browser or going directly to dictionary.reference.com
    – Third News
    Apr 8, 2014 at 14:20
  • I did both. Dictionary.com frequently has these issues …
    – David M
    Apr 8, 2014 at 14:31
  • works for me. looking at the html, the anchor itself is surrounded by double quotes, which shouldn't be causing a problem unless you got a prehistoric browser suffering from circumurlites.
    – NickNo
    Apr 9, 2014 at 9:35
  • According to Wikipedia, ‘lethologica’ is in fact a psychological disorder, though a prevalent one that's highly variable in its severity. However, it's probably still useful to describe that phenomenon, even if the person isn't actually suffering from the disorder. Plus it's just an awesome word. And +1 for ‘catechresis’, that's a very expensive word indeed… See what I did there? ≖⏝≖
    – Will
    Apr 9, 2014 at 16:11

"to paraphrase" means to say something in other words. If you don't remember the exact word for something you have to paraphrase it. If you don't remember the word for elephant you have to paraphrase it: the animal in Africa that is as big as a house with a large trunk and two long tusks. .


"Lethologica" describes this phenomenon as well. It is a fairly esoteric word, though. It is a noun. "The inability to remember a word or put your finger on the right word."



If you meant by non-native speakers, then:

pidgin - a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages.

as in: "He can't speak proper English, only pidgin."

  • @the phantom downvoter: this is a perfectly correct answer. Explain why it isn't.
    – smci
    Apr 10, 2014 at 0:15

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