I have noticed this especially in children when they reach around 5-9 years old, when you ask them questions like, "What's up?", they will automatically respond with, "Good!". Or, "how's it going?", "nothing."

But these mismatches exist all the time in our adult lives and sometimes pop up when you are anticipating one standard interaction, e.g. "Hi, good morning, have a nice day, thank you, I love you, how are you, etc." but then we are hit with another one and the response that was already locked and loaded comes out.

Worst of all is when a preloaded, incorrect, response comes out partially mutated into the correct response, "Good...thanks to... you too... yup okay [mental note, hide from that person forever]".

All this to ask, is there a term or phrase that describes this? In searching for answers on this, I have found info on Grice's Maxims and this would seem to violate the Maxim of Relation, but as that is an extremely wide definition, it feels less than satisfying.

  • 1
    To steal another example from a movie with a giant blue-headed super-villain, one character wishes another, "Well, good luck on your date!", to which the other responds, "I will!"
    – TurboDork
    Commented May 8 at 17:42
  • What I am referring to in the larger sense are where the respondent knows that they have answered the incorrect question. With standard things like greetings, farewells and other pleasantries where there are a significant number of fairly standard Basic Prompt A yields a variation of Basic Response A. There is a very interesting discussion to be had about understanding those conversational auxiliaries, but my main question is when the respondent hears and (at least eventually) understands Basic Prompt A but responds with anything but a variation of Response A, Basic or no.
    – TurboDork
    Commented May 8 at 18:19
  • You aren't expected to answer those questions, but to respond somehow positively. Nobody really cares whether it's the right answer or response. It's certainly not something to shrivel from. Commented May 8 at 18:39
  • What you're seeing here is that these phrases are not meant literally, they're just conventional social idioms. Since you're not asking a literal question, the answer doesn't have to be literally correct, either. "What's up?" and "How's it going?" are just conventional greetings, and "I'm good." is just a conventional response. It happens to match the second greeting, but there's no problem if it doesn't match the first (although a more common response is "Nothing much" or "Same old, same old"). \
    – Barmar
    Commented May 8 at 18:59
  • Giving the "incorrect" response just signals that the responder is not listening carefully and just responding out of habit.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 8 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


The term "incorrect intraverbal response" can be found in the psychological literature.

(National Library of Medicine) There is evidence in the literature that the repertoire of making conditional discriminations in intraverbal behavior might be defective in individuals with developmental disabilities (Brinton & Fujiki, 1994; Finkel & Williams, 2001; Loukusa et al., 2007). For instance, examples of incorrect intraverbal responses reported by Finkel and Williams are the response “telephone” to the question, “What's your telephone number?” and the response “color” to the question “What's your favorite color?” These errors have been categorized as immediate echolalia (e.g., Charlop, 1986; Prizant & Duchan, 1981). Another error observed by Brinton and Fujiki was from the following exchange between an adult with mild-to-moderate mental retardation and the investigator:

Investigator: “What would you do if you found out someone else was stealing?”

Subject: “He'd probably be in deep trouble.”

The error here is that the multiple verbal stimuli did not exert control over the subject's response. Specifically, the subject's response came under the control of “what would” and “someone else was stealing,” but not under the control of “you do if you found out.” This error is characteristic of restricted stimulus control or overselectivity (Lovaas, Koegel, & Schreibman, 1979; Walpole, Roscoe, & Dube, 2007).

  • 1
    This is not what the OP described at all.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 8 at 20:15
  • @Lambie It is a vast domain; the particular type of failure to correspond shown in the OP is not mentioned in this excerpt, but the characteristic failure to correspond is the same. I believe this is the context of verbal stimulus and verbal response, as plain as that.
    – LPH
    Commented May 8 at 20:21
  • 1
    Your answer is simply off topic. A vast domain, now there's a phrase.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 8 at 21:57
  • @Lambie I agree that "vast domain of investigation" would have been better.
    – LPH
    Commented May 9 at 5:40

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