Sometimes I'll look at a word for too long and I become convinced that it's spelled or pronounced incorrectly. This happens most frequently with "spider" (I think that should be pronounced "spih-dur" [like "spitter"], not "speye-dur") and happened just now with "finger" ("fin-gur", not "feen-gur").

There's a similar variant to this (discussed here), but that's related to a word losing it's meaning. To me, the word just looks incorrectly spelled, or I convince myself that everyone's pronouncing it incorrectly. Is there a difference between what I'm describing and Semantic Satiation? If there is a difference, does this one have a name?


I enjoyed the ELU question that you link to back when it was posted. One of the answers given then was orthographic incredulity. That seems to fit exactly what you're speaking of. You recognize the word and know what it means, you just can't convince yourself that it's spelled that way.

Here are a couple of blog posts that use this term: http://www.the-signal.com/archives/50097/ and http://kelloggsville.blogspot.com/2012/04/jamais-vu.html . (Maybe someone else can provide a more authoritative linguistic site that explains the term.)


From memory, semantic satiation was introduced in James’ 1962 dissertation, where it covered only the semantic effect on a speaker of repeating a word numerous times in rapid succession. Sometimes, subjects in the experiments had to deal with written stimuli after repetition of the spoken word. So, there is a tradition (if memory serves!) of applying semantic satiation to the written word.

What you’re describing is different, though, as your “repetition” is visual, not spoken. Nonetheless, there’s an obvious connection. Adults recognise words as wholes, not letter by letter. So, by staring you reduce the word to meaningless individual letters, just as repeated saying reduces a word to a string of meaningless sounds. (The little neurones get metaphorically satiated similarly in both circumstances.)

So, if the word becomes meaningless after long staring, then this might well be describable as semantic satiation. However, if you mean only that you lose confidence in your recollection of the spelling, then a different term might be in order. I’m not aware of one. Maybe it’s your call to invent one. Orthographic satiation is an obvious analog, but I don’t find it very transparent.


The broadest interpretation of semantic satiation applies to visual satiation as well. If the mismatch between term and definition ("semantic" is supposed to imply something to do with meaning, right?) bothers you, a more colloquial term I've seen is word glare.


The term psych out is used to mean

The act or an instance of undermining someone's confidence by psychological means.

The phrase psyching yourself out describes someone over-thinking or over-analyzing something until they are dissuaded from their prior commitment or point of view.

See, for example,this or that.

The phrase is not specific to language issues, such as spelling and pronunciation, but it may apply.

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