Is there any phrase or word that can be used to describe a slip of the tongue that happens in writing?

Calling it a slip of tongue directly feels awkward, especially when the written text is never intended to be read out loud (for example text from a discussion on an SE site such as this).

I've just read "slip of the keyboard" but I'm pretty sure that this is not (yet?) a common phrase.

"Typo" is a very similar term, but I usually use "typo" more for mis-typed words rather than mistakes that actually change the meaning of the text.

  • Do you mean when the person used one word when they meant another word? – Andrew Grimm Aug 3 '11 at 2:18
  • Yes, something like that: Using the wrong word, leaving out a negation, swapping two words, etc. – Joachim Sauer Aug 3 '11 at 5:16

It's called a slip of the pen (more common), or slip of the keyboard (less common).

Either is fine, and will be understood. If you desire to be precise with your idioms, go ahead and use "slip of the keyboard". It's not in as many dictionaries/thesauruses, but people use it, and it makes enough sense that no one should misunderstand it.

I also agree with KeithS: typo would be fine in many cases of "slips of the keyboard", however the "slip" idioms usually indicate more of a mistake in the writer's mind (wrong choice of word) than a typing error, as with "slip of the tongue". "Typo" usually has to do with a small mistake involving a few letters, which the typist did not mean to include, whereas "slip of the pen" or "slip of the keyboard" indicates a mistake of greater scale, such as choosing the wrong word, which, at the time, the typist usually did mean to include, but later realizes his mistake.

  • It fits better, but feels similarly awkward when writing in a medium where the pen is almost certainly not the device used to execute the mistake. – Joachim Sauer Aug 2 '11 at 17:21
  • 1
    The difference is that "slip of the tongue" is not used to refer to a typing error (that I've ever seen), whereas the idiom "slip of the pen" is (and I've seen it; that's why it popped into my mind when I saw this question). – Daniel Aug 2 '11 at 17:26
  • I didn't mean to diminish your answer: it's definitely a good one (and I didn't even know the phrase!). Starting a new idiom is not what I have in mind, I'd rather use existing ones. – Joachim Sauer Aug 2 '11 at 17:31
  • Actually, due to the number of times I see "slip of the keyboard", I'm including it in my answer. I think you're safe to use it. – Daniel Aug 2 '11 at 17:34

Technically speaking, any mistake made while producing a typed document given any other source material (including other typed documents) is a "typographical error", which is in turn a type of "clerical error". So, "typo" works whether the error is an obvious misspelling or mistyping, or something more subtle that would change the meaning of the statement.


Another option -although not commonly used in English- is to use the Latin lapsus.

If you want to be specific you can speak of a lapsus linguae (slip of the tongue) or a lapsus calami (slip of the pen).

  • Practically never used in English, unfortunately (though it is the normal equivalent of "slip" in other languages). – Neil Coffey Aug 2 '11 at 18:22
  • I think the reason this isn't used in English is because it looks like a misspelling of "lapse". – Marthaª Aug 2 '11 at 20:13
  • Thanks for the comments about usage, I updated the answer accordingly. @Martha: that's a good point (obviously, as lapse comes from lapsus!) – nico Aug 2 '11 at 21:31

Malaprop is an appropriate term to describe this sort of language usage error. Whether written or spoken, Dictionary.com and Webster's describe it as unintended misuse of words or phrases by confusion with one of similar sound or spelling. Examples writing "We will except him" vs. "We will accept him," or, humorously, "He had surgery for an unbiblical hernia."

According to grammargirl.com, specific usage errors can be broken down into: "Spoonerisms are what you get when a speaker mixes up sounds, making phrases such as better Nate than lever.

Mondegreens are what you get when listeners mishear words; for example when people think the song lyrics are Sweet dreams are made of cheese instead of Sweet dreams are made of this.

Eggcorns are what you get when people swap homophones in phrases, such as spelling here, here H-E-A-R instead of H-E-R-E.

Malapropisms are what you get when someone substitutes a similar-sounding word for another, such as He's the pineapple of politeness instead of He's the pinnacle of politeness."


A co-worker just asked me this question, so I've been researching, and the best I could come up with is: malapropism.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.