Consider the trope or joke about making a "Freudian slip".

(Firstly, question A, - what year did that trope or joke originate?)

This trope was recently discussed, and, as an incidental matter, my opinion was:

'That trope - jokes about 'Freudian slips' - was current in say the 60s, maybe the 70s. But it is little-heard now; young people wouldn't even know what you're talking about.'

(Maybe I'm completely wrong; maybe I'm right.)

So, is there a way to determine the popularity of usage, of "Freudian slip", from year A through to the present?

Can linguists (or .. somebody?) come up with a graph showing the usage of "Freudian slip" (in the specific example at hand) over the decades - how would one actually show whether I'm right or wrong in the proposal at hand?

More generally for a given trope, or perhaps idiom, how really can you show that it is "out of use" and only "ancient people know or use it" ... ? Is there a way? What's the deal on this?

There seems to be some confusion with folks presenting something about "N-GRAMS". I truly thank you and it seems like amazing technology, but what is it? References from TV (sitcoms etc, the main use of the phrase) ... magazine articles .. the internet? (Surely that would only apply since "the internet" was in existence?)

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    Google News suggests that the expression is alive and well google.com/…
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 9, 2017 at 18:19
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    Google Ngrams are considered general reference. Jun 9, 2017 at 19:39
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    @Tom22 - Ngram goes up to 2008, and Freudian slip is commonly used also these days. books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:34
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    Another issue with "current" is the concept that something can be "trite","hackneyed", or "cliche" .... and proving something moved from popular to overused is probably even tougher !
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:39
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    Note that the following usages are mainly from 2016/7 : google.it/…
    – user66974
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:40

5 Answers 5


Edit: There are some issues with Google's Ngram which anyone using it should be aware of. I think it can be very helpful, but others may not. I was going to add in some more details on the shortcomings of it, but I found some meta posts that I'll link to instead:

Mostly piggy-backing off Robin's answer, using Google's Ngram database would be a great way to check the popularity of a word or phrase in print, with the exception that it currently looks like you can't search past 2008. Edit: Actually, it looks like there is a significant change in the data across the board for dates after 2000, especially around 2004, which is probably responsible for the dip at the end of the graph shown below.

To get accurate results, it is important to read the about page. Some helpful tools to use include:

Notice the difference between Robin's screenshot and this one:

Google Ngram of "freudian slip", 1920-2008

Regarding your example of "Freudian slip", according to Ngram, it looks like the phrase originated around 1925, and its usage peaked around 2002. It looks like it's moving out of usage, but may still be relatively popular, assuming its usage hasn't decreased more rapidly since 2008. Maybe not, see this link.

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    Exemplary, @tehDorf! Jun 9, 2017 at 21:28
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    @RobinHamilton Thanks! I was a little worried it was too close to your answer. I don't mind deleting it if you want to incorporate this info into your answer - I think this is mostly just more detail for your answer.
    – tehDorf
    Jun 9, 2017 at 21:49
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    Nonsense, @tehDorf, you're too modest. You were more than competent, while I was mostly sloppy. If either answer should be deleted, it should be mine. Yours was much more than simply "more detail". Kudos! Jun 9, 2017 at 21:55
  • @Fattie Yes, basically. Wikipedia has a little more information on Ngram, and includes a section on criticisms. The Ngram about page has a little bit of info about the sources as well - in the 'Corpus' section near the bottom of the page.
    – tehDorf
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:12
  • -20 for bringing up boughten ;-) And as for the expression itself - it's not trope or joke. It's the term that was coined to describe the phenomenon of accidentally voicing a subconscious feeling. Intentionally saying something humorous and then claiming that it was a Freudian slip is the joke, and having had such an exchange this week with a twenty-something I can anecdotally say that at least one youngish eastern US listener didn't bat an eye at the expression. (EDIT: Come to think of it he's technically ESL, but nevertheless I'd consider someone unfamiliar with the phrase pretty ignorant)
    – A C
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:33

An Ngram:

enter image description here

This is what Ngram says

  • what is an NGRAM ?
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:06
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    Actually, that Ngram only goes to 2000. If you extend it out as far as it'll go (currently 2008), you will see a noticeable drop after 2002. I would speculate that its usage has dropped even more in the 9 years since then. Ngram 1940-2008. @Fattie Using Google's Ngram database, you can search for the percentage usage of words in printed material. I'm not sure how comprehensive their data is, but it seems pretty good.
    – tehDorf
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:27
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    You should post a correct Ngram research using "Freudian slip": Note that in the term Freudian slip, the first word is capitalized as it is a form of a proper name. grammarist.com/usage/freudian-slip
    – user66974
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:38
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    @Fattie I added an answer that goes more in-depth on Ngram, not just the Ngram of "Freudian slip"
    – tehDorf
    Jun 9, 2017 at 21:05

So, is there a way to determine the popularity of usage of [some idiom], from year A through to the present?

Nope, it can't be done.

There are a number of different ways to scan published materials, and I wouldn't be surprised if, 5-10 years from now, there comes some scheme for doing speech recognition on TV shows and the like and scanning that data base. But these schemes have two basic deficits:

  1. They are always looking to the past. In most cases, to have a sufficiently large and diverse data base to scan, data must be effectively aggregated into periods of time of at least several months, and often several years. So asking if something is "current" is typically asking if it's been used in the past few years.
  2. The data that is collected is always narrow in scope. Eg, Ngram used data mostly from "hard-cover" books, and a few magazines, and a lot of popular idioms will rarely if ever appear in such venues. Even if the idioms being researched manage to make it into print (a fairly high hurdle), they're generally going to be seen in your less erudite publications first, and only make it into Newsweek when the idiom is beginning to become stale.

The best you can do is use Ngram or one of the other tools for scanning published literature and live with the limitations -- the information will not be current (rarely "fresher" than about 2 years), it will be aggregated in periods of months or years, and the available data will be heavily tilted toward "establishment" cultural standards.


No - I do not believe there is a tool to judge whether a term is "current"

  • We could get lost in a semantic argument about what "current" means
  • Designers, advertising firms, etc. have a knack for defining what is hip or fresh but the ELU does not have the tools to determine that sort of "current"
  • Something trite or cliche' almost defines something that is "not current" but proving that something is popular hardly proves it is overused.

Yes - to the question: Is there a way to prove that a word or term is in common usage.

See the other answers too, Ngrams prove that Freudian slip is commonly referenced in books. Given Freud's historical influences in the science of psychology he will undoubtedly be referred to well into the future. Some of his observations such as what is known as a "Freudian slip" will likely also be pertinent and quoted well into the future even if other of his theories have gone out of favor.

However, I will share different Ngram demonstrating both the "No" and the "Yes" answer in relation to Ngrams.

A big issue, in my opinion, is that the use of words in printed books does not accurately represent the current ~spoken~ language, and that even written things on web blogs and sites have a different bias in formality.

ngram of People person,  Freudian Slip, and Microaggression

I would feel safe in saying that "people person" is now far too trite to use on something like a resume', yet, I do not believe ngram is useful tool to judge the term "people person" today.

people person: 1) would the numbers for "people person" after 2008 go down? 2) When did the term (did it?) become cliche' ? 3) I bet "people person" jokes were funny when the term was fresh.

'Freudian slip' was in a downward trend but given it's durability over time I do think the chart makes a strong point that the term would still be "well known and used"

microaggression 2008 is too late to pick up what must be an immense uptick in "current" popular terms like "microaggression" , also tempering the use of ngram as a judge of whether something is current.

I would posit that "microagression" is, to our current pop-culture, what "Freud" was in the 1950's and 1960's.

I'd also posit that what makes a trope or joke current is the popular 'buzz' around a word.

So, Yes and No, to the OP question(s) , which could be clarified.

  • "I'd also posit that what makes a trope or joke current is the pop buzz around a word" well, I'm simply asking if it is still popularly used. (And hence, simply "understood".)
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:39
  • @Fattie you actually ask both questions and I tried to answer both "is it current" AND would it be "understood". Were you to eliminate your use of the word "current" I would probably delete this answer ;)
    – Tom22
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:44
  • Hey Tom, regarding your opinion of whether (the particular example phrase) is used more or less now than in 1970, and your opinion of whether it is widely understood or not today - that's fine, and thanks. The question at hand is, is there a scientific (as it were) way to determine those numbers for that phrase (or indeed any common phrase). Really, your answer is "no" - and that makes sense to me.
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:47
  • With regard to current Spoken American English, there's also the Corpus of Contemporary American English (corpus.byu.edu/coca), which gives 49 examples of "Freudian slip" from 1990-2015: "The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) is the largest freely-available corpus of English, and the only large and balanced corpus of American English. COCA is probably the most widely-used corpus of English, and it is related to many other corpora of English that we have created, which offer unparalleled insight into variation in English." Jun 10, 2017 at 2:36
  • "Ngrams prove that Freudian slip is commonly referenced in books. " well no - NGram is strictly historic (it appears, based on what is written here??) It doesn't seem to help, in any way, with recent usage, it's only for ancient history (if I understand the descriptions here).
    – Fattie
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:21

There seems to be a misunderstanding in the question. There is no such thing as a Freudian slip that "exists" out there. Also, there is no trope or joke about them. They are things one makes. Do I dare say every human being makes them?

Freudian slips, properly called parapraxis or lapsus linguae, are slips of the tongue. You mean to say one thing, but your unconscious gets the better of you, and you say another. lapsus

Tropes and idioms are not Freudian slips. In fact, everyone at some point or other makes these slips of tongue in their speech. Now, some people may not know what they are called, but most people at least know they are having a "whoops, moment". I said X but meant to say Y.

Furthermore, there are many different kinds of these slips of the tongue. The link below goes into detail about the different kinds.

Also, the term Freudian slip comes from "Sigmund Freud, who, in his 1901 book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, described and analyzed a large number of seemingly trivial, bizarre, or nonsensical errors and slips, most notably the Signorelli parapraxis." Freudian slip

I was not looking to write a dissertation here as some are wont to do. (That's fine). I merely was looking to clear up a misconception in the way the question was posed and what the term really means. I should think that the

The first translation into English of that The Psychopathology was in 1914 by A.A.Brill.

And here is a link for layperson on why it's important to understand what a Freudian slip really is: enter link description here To wit:

"My current favorite example of a probable Freudian slip is when President Bush reportedly said in a speech he was giving to a group of teachers “I'd like to spank all teachers.” We guess that he wanted to say “thank” all the teachers, but he didn't. Why didn't he? That is open to analysis."

Finally, in everyday English, Freudian slips are often referred to as bloopers.

I was unable to identify when the term was first used. Perhaps some book review or other? Perhaps someone else can find it. :)

  • @Fattie no, Lambie's quite right in saying that while some Freudian slips are humorous, it's certainly not a requirement. It's just accidentally saying what you're subconsciously thinking/feeling instead of what you intended to say.
    – A C
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:41
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    Lambie, you are discussing various (interesting aspects of) "freudian slips". The question here has utterly no connection, in any way, whatsoever, to "freudian slips", their nature, or their qualities. I am extremely simply asking "how often is the phrase 'XYZ used over the decades". (The phrase XYZ here happens to be "freudian slip". The phrase could as well be "yoyos" or "Beagle Dogs".) thanks.
    – Fattie
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:44
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    "Consider the trope or joke about making a "Freudian slip". There is no joke about making a Freudian slip so what does that even mean? I think your question is poorly formulated to the point of making it unintelligible. Everybody jumped on ngrams with Freudian slip!
    – Lambie
    Jun 9, 2017 at 22:51
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    @Fattie, as I said, patiently at first, a Freudian slip is a lapsus lingua, or slip of the tongue. It is not a trope or idiom at all. It is a fact of life for speaking beings (Jacques Lacan's l'être parlant). In fact, one might even call it an art term in psychoanalysis.
    – Lambie
    Jun 10, 2017 at 0:04
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    The question here is about the frequency of usage of the term, cheers. And, more generally how to determine the frequency of usage of any term. (Regarding "jokes", it is (or was, say in the 1960s) commonplace to make jokes around "freudian slip" in, say, sitcoms.)
    – Fattie
    Jun 10, 2017 at 16:53

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