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A common example would be a famous story on Internet that spawned a meme where someone accidentally combined "Are you okay?" and "I'm fucking sorry" and ended up saying "Are you fucking sorry?"

A recent example was when someone I was discussing something with accidentally combined "handy" and "useful" and ended up saying that it was "handful". (If something is "a handful" then it's pretty problematic, not very useful.)

This kind of mixup when you two thoughts with the same meaning accidentally combine into something with the opposite meaning happens so often that there must be a word for it. I'm looking for that word.

Such a word would be used in a sentence like this:

Sorry, I just had an X.

or

X happens to me a lot, but when it does I usually catch it before I actually say it.

I'm thinking it could be something like "antonymic synonym compound", because it compounds two nearly synonymic thoughts into an antonymic sentence, but this really isn't my field at all so I'm just talking in my night cap. If there's a word for it then it's probably more psychology oriented rather than linguistics.


Should I maybe have asked this in the Psychology StackExchange instead?

  • "Slip of the tongue" is the traditional term, though it's a bit broader in meaning than your specific example calls for. Some people might say, "failure to put brain in gear before putting mouth into motion". – Hot Licks Mar 3 '18 at 14:38
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    Sounds similar to spoonerisms. – Lawrence Mar 3 '18 at 14:44
  • Hotlicks is right, and ‘slip of the tongue’ is close. Another candidate might be to say “sorry, I misspoke”. ‘Misspeech’ is the nearest. The problem is that this idea has already been bagged by politicians as a euphemism for what was in effect a falsehood! Your example is more accurately described as misspeech. – Tuffy Mar 3 '18 at 15:10
  • I think I'd refer to that as an "incredible coincidence." – spoko Mar 4 '18 at 2:19
  • "Saying something with the opposite meaning" is something far more distinct than any of the suggestions I see here. And it happens on the internet so often that I wouldn't be surprised if 20-30 percent of all online arguments are actually people who agree but misspeak and misread things as their opposite. I'm surprised that there's no answer here that concretely differentiates this effect, and this question is the closest thing I found when Googling. Anyway the most common manifestation I've seen is elided negatives (missing "no", "not", etc). I think it happens while typing long phrases. – Darren Ringer Jul 15 '19 at 3:29
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Garble (verb) ~ to confuse or mix up (a quotation, story, message, etc.) unintentionally... A garbled message or report contains confused or wrong details, often because it is spoken by someone who is nervous or in a hurry.

Jumble (verb) ~ If you jumble things, they become mixed together so that they are untidy or are not in the correct order. Also ~ to confuse mentally; muddle.

Scramble (verb) ~ to put things such as words or letters in the wrong order so that they do not make sense: He had a habit of scrambling his words when excited.

  • Sorry, I just garbled [my words].
  • I apologize for garbling [my speech].
  • Jumbling happens to me a lot, but when it does I usually catch it before I actually say it.
  • That came out scrambled, I didn't mean it like that.
  • Try not to muddle it up, when you ask for a raise.

All are synonyms, and virtually interchangeable in this context.

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The name for a new word created by combining and eliding two distinct words is called a neologism. However, normally that refers to a new word that makes sense when you combine two words, not an already established word that doesn't make sense in the context you intend. Urban slang for what happened when you said "handful" would be a brain fart or a senior moment. But neither of those specifically refers to saying the opposite of what you meant.

Unintentionally using the antonym sometimes happens with usage over time in the general population. Eventually, the meaning can gradually become its opposite. For example, I've noticed a lot of younger people use the word notoriety to mean celebrity in a positive way, not according to its actual definition, as in the Ingrid Bergman movie "NOTORIOUS." Same with infamous. Many people currently use this word as though it had a positive connotation, certainly nothing like FDR's meaning when he said the bombing of Pearl Harbor was "the day that will live in infamy." The meaning of those words has not officially changed, even though it may in the future. But the usage does seem to be changing.

However, an individual person doing this - or did you mean you hear other people doing it often too, not just you? One person's tendency to make this kind of mistake could be a psychological phenomenon related to deja vu or synesthesia.

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