What noun or noun phrase do you use for not doing something that you intended to do because subconsciously you did not want to do it?

In speech it is called 'a Freudian slip'.

(Merriam Webster online dictionary) He meant to say "I'm glad you're here," but what came out was a Freudian slip: "I'm mad you're here."

How about in deed and not in speech?

I forgot her birthday, but it was a/an ???.

... meaning that it is no wonder I forgot her birthday as I do not like her very much and, deep down, did not mind hurting her, did not want to please her.

The French word for this is 'un acte manqué', but try as I might I could not find any equivalent in English.

  • Freudian slip works for actions: A mistake in speech or action in which a person supposedly shows their true subconscious desires. Nov 17, 2021 at 17:05

2 Answers 2


Bash on with using Freudian slip to describe that kind of mistake of the memory or of action. This usage is blessed by Lexico which provides the definition

An unintentional error regarded as revealing subconscious feelings.

It then rather undoes it's own definition by failing to provide example sentences using the term to describe errors in memory or action.

If that doesn't satisfy you, maybe you would rather use parapraxis, which Lexico defines as

A minor error in speech or action, (supposedly) representing the fulfilment of an unconscious wish; a Freudian slip.

Other sources provide similar definitions of parapraxis. I think using a posh word like parapraxis is more likely to confuse the average reader than extending Freudian slip to encompass an error in action.

  • Wikipedia also extends the definition beyond speech: "In psychoanalysis, a Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that occurs due to the interference of an unconscious subdued wish or internal train of thought." Nov 17, 2021 at 16:50

selective memory

The tendency to remember only what one wants to remember m-w

An ability to remember some facts while apparently forgetting others, esp when they are inconvenient Collins

Indeed, we may even engage in selective memory and forget those inconvenient facts that don't fit the overall picture. Paul Shoemaker; Brilliant Mistakes

"Selective memory" is when you remember the things you want to remember and forget the things you don't really care about. For example if your Dad promised you (in May) a puppy for Christmas, there's no way you would forget that in December! But when your mom asks you in the morning to take out the trash after school, well ... You might forget that. David Cook; Truth and Dare.

Another driving force behind our use of selective memory is avoidance. Jow Gwerder; 20/20 Listening

Humans' capacity to avoid unpleasant awareness is remarkable in its versatility. We use selective attention, creative reinterpretation, selective memory, and other strategies of self deception to avoid confronting problematic aspects of our lives. Roland Mees; Sustainable Action and Motivation

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