Why do I transpose words?
February 16, 2009 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Is there a psychological grounds for the continual transposition of related words over the lifetime of an individual?

My editor noted today that I have once again succumbed to a strange tendency: I constantly and consistently transpose the words "get" and "keep". That is to say, if I am writing a sentence like "Go to the market and get me a box of cereal," I will mistakenly type "Go to the market and keep me a box of cereal." Similarly, I will often type "I would like you to get this," when I mean, "I would like you to keep this."

I only transpose these two words and no others, but I recall from notes written by high school teachers that I did so even then. I have never done this in speech, only in writing--both typing and handwriting.

Is this common? Is there a name for it? Does it have some psychological basis? What's going on?
posted by jefficator to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
its understandable if you were exposed to another language and are/were transliterating. not the case?
posted by sidr at 11:31 AM on February 16, 2009

Response by poster: Nope. Native English, no foreign languages until high school.

Its frustrating because it makes no logical sense. But its consistent, which is its own sort of logic.
posted by jefficator at 11:54 AM on February 16, 2009

The first thing I thought of was paraphasia (related to aphasia), but that's a fairly serious disorder. What you have doesn't sound too serious if you're just transposing the exact same two words over and over again.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2009

I do the same thing with dentist and veterinarian. My wife does it with Canadian Tire/Tim Hortons, wedding/funeral, toothpick/q-tip, lasagne/meatloaf and a couple others that I can't remember. Unlike you, though, it's most often in speech, rarely in writing.
posted by arcticwoman at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2009

Best answer: People make word exchange/substitution errors all the time, and this one doesn't strike me as particularly unusual, since the concepts underlying "get" and "keep" are quite similar. If you want to get a sense of what types of errors of this sort occur, you could got to this speech error corpus, set "error type" to lexical, set "process procedure" to substitute, and "syntactic domain" to V (i.e. verb). The first few results that come up for that search are things like substituting "write" for "read", "deserves" for "needs", and "parole" for "patrole". So both meaning relatedness and sound relatedness can lead to word substitution errors. If you want to read more about this kind of speech error you might try chapter 6 of this book (and the whole book for speech errors in general). (There may be something better online but I couldn't find it and this unfortunately isn't really my area. Googling "speech error" does turn up a few basic introductions.)

I think it is somewhat more unusual that you are so consistent about doing this substitution in particular, and that it is in writing (though many speech errors do occur in writing, I believe). It is certainly much much more targeted than any language impairment I have heard about (definitely much more targeted than aphasia), though again it isn't my area. That is, I have never heard of any diagnosable impairment that targets just one pair of words. I wouldn't personally worry about it myself, for that reason. Hopefully someone can come along who knows a bit more about speech errors than I do (but afaik no such person is a member of metafilter).

My guess, btw, is that you do do this in speech, but don't notice it. We are quite good at filtering and ignoring speech errors in ourselves and others.
posted by advil at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Well, no, there's no reason to think he does it in speech; textual errors are different. I tend to drop off suffixes when I type (-ing, -ed, -ly) but I don't especially do that in speech. I would be surprised if speaking and typing were wired to the same parts of the brain!
posted by Casuistry at 3:09 PM on February 16, 2009

really, and probably unrelated, but when I make a mistake while playing guitar, I tend to "learn" the mistake and keep hitting it again and again. Your question made me think of this and I am thinking that perhaps your brain has an imprint of this mistake and you, therefore, do over and over again. A repetitive mistake.
posted by captainsohler at 7:50 PM on February 16, 2009

I can´t answer any of your questions, but if your editor (your boss?) mentioned this:

Use the search function on your word processor to find all instances of ´get´ and ´keep´ before you submit anything to your editor.
posted by yohko at 7:56 AM on February 17, 2009

« Older Files on BOTH Computer and Dropbox Online Storage   |   Stomach virus still lingering? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.