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As a contrived example, you might be looking at the book "1984" when someone ask you when you were born, so you answer "1984" by mistake. You do, of course, know when you were born. You just had a little neurolinguistic slip. So, is there a word that perfectly describes that situation — or perhaps the word? It is not a "malapropism" or any such failure to know what is correct; it is just an ephemeral "slip" of the brain.

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    It's a cognitive phenomenon, but I don't think there's a specific term for it (I would be happy to be wrong about that)--I think "neurolinguistic slip" is as close as you're going to get. The underlying neurophysical mechanism is probably similar to that of the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroop_effect
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:09
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    This seems to be the most relevant and useful information yet. If my question begs neologism, I would propose "Stroop slip" for public consumption. :)
    – GiHe
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:24
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    @GiHe - Consider asking your question at Psychology.SE. There might be someone there who can help you..
    – Justin
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:30
  • It sounds a little like an OCD symptom...maybe you need to restrict the Q. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:44
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    psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201203/slips-the-tongue "Freud's ideas, especially about the ubiquity of sexual urges, have been dethroned" ... " A language-production system that is error-prone allows for the "novel production" of words. It is prima facie evidence of linguistic flexibility, proof of the great dexterity of the human mind."
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 20:52

3 Answers 3

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In psycholinguistics, this is a type of priming, defined in Insights from Psycholinguistics as "the phenomenon in which prior exposure to specific language forms or meanings influences a speaker’s subsequent language comprehension or production."

We're often primed by semantically related words rather than the word itself. Like if you saw the words "collar," "leash," and "walk," and someone asked you to name an animal, you'd probably be more likely to say "dog" than "cat." But that might also happen if you were just looking at the word "dog," too - it's just a more direct form of priming.

So in linguistic terms, the phenomenon you're describing is a speech error conditioned by priming.

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  • Hello, Aralcar. Is the term 'priming' actually used for other than external influences? Your answer certainly fits for ' ... because you were otherwise looking at, listening to ... that word'. Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 12:15
  • Hi, Edwin. The term 'priming' comes from the broader field of psychology, where the effect can come from any stimulus - anything that elicits a response. What did you have in mind with 'other than external influences'?
    – Aralcar
    Commented Jan 27, 2022 at 23:26
  • When one's mind was on other things, not (present, first-hand) outside influences. Thinking about music and answering "1812". Commented Jan 28, 2022 at 16:57
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    I see - thanks for clarifying. In psychology (as in physiology) stimuli can be internal or external, so in theory psycholinguistic stimuli could also be internal or external. But you're right - psycholinguists don't really talk or write about priming from purely internal stimuli (as far as I know), maybe because it's difficult to test for it empirically. So if someone were independently thinking about a word or concept without having been influenced by any external stimulus, and they became more likely to produce that word or a related word, that effect might not be called priming.
    – Aralcar
    Commented Jan 29, 2022 at 1:46
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This would most generally be called a slip of the tongue. These are sometimes called Freudian slips, but that really describes a specific circumstance in which the words you say belie some unconscious thought or desire. You'll often hear the term used without its proper psychoanalytical context to describe any slip of the tongue, though.

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    I would say that it is a specific kind of "slip of the tongue" but is not typically a "Freudian slip" (which is a different specific kind of "slip of the tongue"). I am looking for a word that is exactly correct (in the mathematical sense of "exact"), which "slip of the tongue" is not because other slips of the tongue are not this kind. Thanks, though!
    – GiHe
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 17:46
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    I'm saying that if 'slip of the tongue' (or 'speech error') were a fair answer here, this question should be CV-d as a duplicate rather than answered. It's the 'because you were otherwise looking at, listening to, or thinking about that word' caveat that licenses this question and proscribes ballpark answers. [I]s there a word that perfectly describes that situation ... Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:52
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    @EdwinAshworth P.S. It's good practice to @ someone you respond to so they are alerted that you responded.
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 20:40
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    @Lambie, "slip of the tongue" is too broad; it is a superset that includes both (1) what I am calling the "Stroop slip" for now and (2) the Freudian slip. Also, the Freudian slip and the "Stroop slip" are non-overlapping, neurolinguistically. The "Stroop slip" feels like an artifact of incomplete task-switching from one conscious context to another. The Freudian slip is an involuntary revelation of an unconscious thought.
    – GiHe
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 21:38
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    @Jim Balter Is there a word for being corrected for an error you commit say one time in a thousand? Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 11:39
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I'm still doing a bit of research, but here's what I've come up with for now -

Echolalia

Echolalia is the unsolicited repetition of vocalizations made by another person (when repeated by the same person, it is called palilalia). In its profound form it is automatic and effortless. It is one of the echophenomena, closely related to echopraxia, the automatic repetition of movements made by another person; both are "subsets of imitative behavior" whereby sounds or actions are imitated "without explicit awareness". Echolalia may be an immediate reaction to a stimulus or may be delayed.

Source - Wikipedia


Echolalia: The involuntary parrotlike repetition (echoing) of a word or phrase just spoken by another person.

Source - medicinenet.com


There's also mirroring -

Mirroring is the behaviour in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another.

However, this doesn't really suit the purpose of this question very well...

From Wikipedia -

Mirroring generally takes place unconsciously as individuals react with the situation. Mirroring is common in conversation, as the listeners will typically smile or frown along with the speaker, as well as imitate body posture or attitude about the topic. Individuals may be more willing to empathize with and accept people whom they believe hold similar interests and beliefs, and thus mirroring the person with whom one is speaking may establish connections between the individuals involved.

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    "Echolalia" is very interesting and superficially similar, but seems (1) pathological (i.e., "indicative of an underlying disorder") and (2) bound to external stimuli (and thus not applicable to the case where a word leaks from your thoughts to your speech). There may not be a perfect word (mot juste) for this particular kind of slip of the tongue...
    – GiHe
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:18
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    @GiHe Justin's answer references "palilalia", which deals with (2), but I think (1) is an overwhelming objection--this is obsessive pathological echoing, which is very different from a "Stroop slip".
    – Jim Balter
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:31
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    I first saw that word in Slaughterhouse-five...not sure it applies here. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:36
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    @Cascabel - I can't seem to find a specific word or phrase tailored to fit OP's question.. Nevertheless, I'm just gonna leave echolalia here.. and go read/watch Slaughterhouse-five...
    – Justin
    Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:46
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    Caracoles...this is a must-read book for people trying to understand WWII as written on a personal level. Commented Mar 9, 2021 at 19:51

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