The Big Bang Theory season 11, episode 15:

Leonard: "I didn't intend to write about Penny ... maybe subconsciously I did."

Leonard's mother: "I believe you mean unconsciously dear."

I have read here on SE and other sites that subconscious is the proper word to use and unconscious means you're passed out and not in your senses.

Have I been mistaken all this time?

  • Isn't Leonard's mother being sardonic here? Feb 3, 2018 at 16:36
  • @EdwinAshworth I don't know, perhaps she is. English is my third language so sometimes these nuanced undertones escapes me.
    – user223816
    Feb 3, 2018 at 16:39
  • She is being sarcastic. Unconsciously literally means "with no thinking", she doesn't have a high opinion of Leonard's thinking
    – mgb
    Feb 3, 2018 at 16:46

1 Answer 1


Leonard's mother is a therapist, thereby probably conversant with psychoanalysis, in which the technical term used by Freud is "the unconscious" as in mind. There are, however, three levels of mind in Freud: three levels

So, her sarcasm is based on her own professional jargon. And, when you have a lapse of the tongue or bungled act, this speech and action respectively are said to be due to the unconscious, the deepest level and not just under the surface (subconscious). Freud would not locate a lapse at the level of a subconscious. It would be said to emanate from the unconscious.

Slips of the tongue (lapsus linguae) are briefly explained here: lapses. These are also known as: Freudian slips, in English.

The Big Bang Theory contains surprisingly tricky jokes. This is one of them.


  • I think the Freudian point is the correct interpretation of this. Although, I don't think she was being sarcastic because in the next line Leonard says, "It would be nice if you didn't correct me all the time." So either she was correct or he didn't know the difference between subconscious and unconscious either.
    – user223816
    Feb 3, 2018 at 17:14
  • @zindarod She was correcting him and being sarcastic in doing so. It was the last or next-to-last episode, and I saw it and you can tell from her tone of voice.
    – Lambie
    Feb 3, 2018 at 17:16
  • I am confused. Doesn't sarcasm mean the opposite of what one's saying? So if she was being sarcastic then unconsciously is not the correct choice, subconsciously is.
    – user223816
    Feb 3, 2018 at 17:22
  • @zindarod No, not necessarily. Sarcasm is complicated but your statement about it is not accurate and applies binary logic to the semantic situation.
    – Lambie
    Feb 3, 2018 at 17:59

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