My brain is making up a new version of English.
February 22, 2012 4:00 PM   Subscribe

My brain regularly replaces words. Cute or scary?

I'm referring to tofu but say yoda. I'm referring to the band the English Beat but can only come up with Missing Persons or Modern English. (There are others, but I'm forgetting them at the moment.) I often mishear things - "I love you so much" becomes "I made you some lunch."

It's become quite the endearing and oft-repeated joke in our household, but I am a tiny bit concerned that there's some kind of serious brain failing beginning here. I'm not yet 40. Ideas or thoughts from the hive mind?
posted by thrasher to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I just remembered the most recent one. Last night I meant to say "we need to set our alarms" (we use the alarms on our smart phones to wake us up in the morning.) What I actually said was "we need to set our phones on fire."
posted by thrasher at 4:04 PM on February 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

If it's any consolation, this happens to my wife and I, we have a toddler. They siphon off brain cells why you sleep.

I will also probably always think of Tofu as Yoda now in my head.
posted by iamabot at 4:05 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you always been like this?
posted by Good Brain at 4:10 PM on February 22, 2012

It's probably nothing. My brain does it all the time too, and it's gotten worse since I started taking Topamax. It's something I've worked around and I lead a fairly normal life. Most of my friends know I'm quirky that way. It does make for interesting internet posts sometimes though... However, if it *really* bothers you, you could mention it to your doctor the next time you get a check up (write it down, or you'll never remember it).
posted by patheral at 4:10 PM on February 22, 2012

Sounds like paraphasia. Don't get alarmed when you google that and find out what can cause it, but do keep an eye out for other oddities in cognition, behavior, sleep, and so forth, and especially be alert to whether it is becoming more frequent. I am not a doctor.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:11 PM on February 22, 2012

Wow, as a linguistics student, I basically just want to study you.

You might be interested in some of the research on speech errors-- you have a slightly more creative and intense version of a common human phenomenon. The "phone on fire" example is interesting, because it shows that your speech errors aren't happening at the level of articulation ("toin coss" for "coin toss," for example), or even at the level of word retrieval; they're happening, sometimes, as the level of conceptual integration.
posted by ms.codex at 4:11 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Are you getting enough sleep? When I'm really tired, my brain makes my mouth say different things than what my mind intends.
posted by Maisie at 4:12 PM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you take any prescription meds, specifically SSRI?

Your question reminded me of a bizarro set of circumstances that came up as a result of a Fluoxetine prescription.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 4:15 PM on February 22, 2012

Response by poster: I've questioned my hearing for about 10 years, but haven't ever had it checked.

The replacement of my own words has only been happening in the last couple years.

I have no kids, I don't take any prescriptions.

Sleep could be the issue, I have been getting a lot less of it in the last couple years.

I'll check out the links provided, thanks.

As an aside, it reminds me of this Twilight Zone episode I saw years ago:
posted by thrasher at 4:16 PM on February 22, 2012

Personal anecdote: I've also experienced this with sleep deprivation (I also blame my months-old son and his night-time feeding demands =). I get more sleep and I'm generally better.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:26 PM on February 22, 2012

My father does the same thing. Sometimes it appears to be related -- he asks for a banana instead of the yellow mustard -- and sometimes it doesn't -- he mentioned that he had ordered a hot tub when he meant baked potato. He sleeps enough, has some kind of hearing problem -- it's not that he doesn't hear, exactly, it's that he cannot make out what he hears. He's done it 20 or more years, though the weird word substitutions have, I think, gotten more common lately. He absolutely remembers asking for mustard or saying he had ordered a baked potato, not a banana or a hot tub.

The doctor doesn't appear to be worried, and this has had no other impact on his health.
posted by jeather at 4:27 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thoughts, continued: I've said some very weird things in my states of delirium, which made complete sense to me, but those present were completely baffled as to my meaning. I used actual English words, not gibberish. Asked a moment later, I will repeat what I thought I said, but with the actual words, and when told what I had said a moment before, I can't remember saying those words. Again, this is when I'm really tired.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:29 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that I'm referring to the band the English Beat but can only come up with Missing Persons or Modern English is a lot different than "we need to set our phones on fire." The first one seems really common -- Modern English and Missing Persons is totally where you'd go if you were were trying to remember English Beat. I feel like sometimes I have to go through my mental roladex for stuff like that, and it takes way longer than it used to.

I have a tendency to do the other to a much lesser degree, but generally only when I'm typing, which is weird -- I think sometimes it's because I'm writing one thing, but watching TV and I somehow accidentally transcribe what I'm hearing. I'm much worse when I'm tired. Try getting more sleep and see if that helps.

Can't hurt to ask the doctor, though.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:30 PM on February 22, 2012

(I'm 32 and in otherwise good health, as far as I can figure out.)
posted by filthy light thief at 4:30 PM on February 22, 2012

I often mishear things as well. I'm 22. I say things that don't make sense, more often when I'm tired.

Do you find you're pushing out what ever words come to mind just to say something rather than waiting for the right words to come? Or do you only realize you've said something silly after it gets out?

(If I'm annoyed with my inability to find a word I'll just go on and say, "you know the metal thing that you put in the place to start the car" in place of key, or I'll know it's the wrong word and say it anyway rather than just stopping.)

If you are truly concerned it might be worthwhile to record the frequency of your slip-ups to track if you truly are getting worse over time. Not that I think anything is particularly wrong with you.
posted by sarae at 5:10 PM on February 22, 2012

Are you male or female? Anything else crop up in the past few years? Changes in skin tone?
(IANAD, just an incessant googler.)
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 5:13 PM on February 22, 2012

Do you immediately recognize that you've said something totally awesomely ridiculous and you think it's hilarious, or do people have to point out to you that you're talking gibberish?

Is it always something related to what you're thinking of (like you're trying to say "phone alarm" and it gets mixed up with "fire alarm", per your example), or do you make random nonsensical substitutions (like you're trying to say "I'd like a salad for dinner" and instead say something like "I'd like baseball to eat")?

Is it difficult for you to form the words you want to say, or do you just say something casually and it comes out wrong? Does it feel like a slip of the tongue or a "brain fart," or do you actually believe you're saying exactly what you mean but no one else is understanding you?
posted by erst at 5:20 PM on February 22, 2012

I do this all the time when I'm underslept. It feels like I'm pulling the wrong noun-card out of a card file, if anyone understands this antiquated metaphor. It goes away magically when I get a couple of good nights' sleep. (I'm 47.)

"Cute" seems like a funny way to describe it; I find it slightly annoying. "Tofu" and "Yoda" is definitely one I'd do--I often confuse nouns that sound somewhat alike.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:28 PM on February 22, 2012

I lived abroad in a non-English speaking country and this happened all the time during that period of about a year. When I tried to speak English sometimes I randomly said different words than I meant to and got some weird reactions. I think it also happened more often when I was sleep deprived. Always words that sort of sounded alike.

Since I've been back in the US this hasn't really happened.
posted by fromageball at 5:48 PM on February 22, 2012

I'm 23 and I do that all the time. At camp it even became a phrase of mine "can you pass me the ---- aaaaaand by ---- I mean *****."
posted by raccoon409 at 6:06 PM on February 22, 2012

I do a similar thing, but usually I find it's that my brain has multiple channels going and they got crossed somehow.

Maybe you thought of setting your alarm, then thought of the phrase fire alarm, then replaced alarm with the word fire. I don't find this sort of thing a cause for concern. I think it's just a sign of distraction.

Are you busy and stressed? Or do you talk all day, so that your thought-to-speech process would be a bit sloppy when you relax? That has happened to me when I've had to teach or present throughout the day, saying the same things over and over- it's like I keep 'performing' but my content is a bit of a mess by the end of the day.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:23 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do this often and have for as long as I can remember. I'm in my 20s. I've never asked a doctor about it... But if it had developed suddenly on me like yours has, I would probably have asked.
posted by snorkmaiden at 6:43 PM on February 22, 2012

This happens to me. It's a lot worse when I'm tired.

Are you female? Hormones can do it, too.
posted by elizeh at 7:45 PM on February 22, 2012

1. hot tub is totally related to baked potato- dad ordered a hot spud. 2. op, were you forced out of handedness as a kid (ie, you were a lefty and learned to write draw or throw right-handed) or are you trying to learn something with your non-dominant hand now (golf swing, tennis serve, guitar, fiddle, etc)? i've heard trying to train your brain in a new handedness can lead to these kind of substitution errors. 3. get your hearing checked.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:15 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can add a layer to the hot tub - baked potato thing. Tubers. Hot tubers.

My mother does this a bit but it's most likely linked to her other mental disabilities, and it's usually fine except for those times she badly misrepresents something ('I got belissaith a Playboy for Christmas' rather than 'Gameboy'.

I find I do it too - definitely more so when I'm lacking in sleep but a little bit the rest of the time. I've always attributed it to being raised by my mother and having it as a daily influence in my youngest years, but that may not be the case. It looks like the sleep connection is very common, though.

It's probably not a huge concern but mentioning it to your doctor next time you're there probably can't hurt.
posted by belissaith at 8:28 PM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

The phones on fire one sounds like a Freudian slip! Some nights I want to set mine on fire.

FWIW I have noticed a lot more word slips while I've been on SSRIs. It's been a steady state, though - constant over time, directly related to dose.
posted by SakuraK at 10:01 PM on February 22, 2012

I don't know how serious what you describe is, but I would want to get a neurologist's or clinical neuropsychologist's professional evaluation. Especially if this has changed / increased over time.
posted by parudox at 10:17 PM on February 22, 2012

Well.... it kind of sounds like Auditory Processing Disorder (sometimes called auditory dyslexia). I've often felt like I don't hear correctly, and am always told I have perfect hearing, and that it might be related to dyslexia. I don't know how worthwhile that information is, but I do this thing often, and it's also been blamed on my bad handwriting - the ideas come faster than the ability to communicate them.
posted by OrangeDrink at 11:01 PM on February 22, 2012

I do something similar when I've had too much/too little salt or sugar in my diet for a day or two. I just also realized I do it less now that I've been receiving treatment for hypothyroidism. Maybe go get checked for some regular blood tests and such? Could be something wrong but less of a big deal than cognitive problems, maybe just metabolism/hormone stuff.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 11:23 PM on February 22, 2012

I do this also.
It seems like it is a thing that people do.

Most commonly I will swap around Barbecue/Bonfire and Iron/Kettle, but others do happen.

I think it is perhaps just the way your brain remembers things and it makes perfectly sensible links inside the brain, but they sound wierd when it is vocalised.
(As I just noticed, ms.cortex suggested above, but with cleverer words)
Happens more when tired, but will happen when I'm not.

I think the technical term might be Verbal Paraphasia.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 5:33 AM on February 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks all for the input. For those that asked, I am female. When it happens it's either I start the sentence and stop before the wrong word/phrase pops out and say with a laugh, "all I can think of is yoda." Or "I was about to say let's set our phones on fire." Sometimes the wrong thing does pop out and I catch it immediately. I've never missed it or been unaware, as far as I recall. Much laughter usually ensues, followed by using that wrong word or phrase intentionally for a few days, which only reinforces it's use!

We joke that I'm creating my own language, and that when I say "I was eating Yoda listening to Modern English and thinking I need to set my phone on fire because I made you some lunch," pretty much the only person who would know what the hell I was talking about would be my partner. And now, all of Ask MeFi!

It doesn't sound like it's much to worry about, but worth keeping tabs on.
posted by thrasher at 6:10 AM on February 23, 2012

Sleep deprivation. I'm notorious for this when I haven't slept. It starts with me hearing things wrong, the next step is speaking like this. When I start seeing phantom cats in the house out of the corner of my eye, it's time to sleep.

This is especially comical as I can recall incredibly complicated, unusual, lengthy and specific words when this is happening, but I miss the simple stuff like "door" or "house."

I've been accused of being more drunk when I'm tired than I am when I'm drunk.

Sleep - and REALLY GOOD sleep - always fixes this for me.
posted by MysticMCJ at 8:09 AM on February 23, 2012

I am constantly calling my cat "Mr. Buttons" or "Friend" because it just comes out of my mouth in lieu of his real name (Nubs). I tell stories about my boyfriend "Adam" or "Steve" when my boyfriend's name is...not Adam or Steve (nor do I really know anyone by these names). Constant spoonerisms, etc. Sometimes I sound like a moron because I start to say a word wrong ("I ate a fra...nana today")and try to play it off and hope no one notices (they always do).

However, I do this most often with people I am totally comfortable with, when I'm just talking easily. I'm not really thinking before I speak so the lines get crossed. Sometimes I worry I'm having a long-term constant stroke, or stuck in a brain lock but mostly it's just my annoying quirk.
posted by Katine at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2012

I had a roommate in university who did this. We were discussing a group outing and how many people would fit in a car, and she came out with "We'll have to tie Manus to the fender like an antelope." She meant deer but substituted a much less common word. (This was years before James Byrd's death. It sounded way less creepy in 1991 than it would sound now.)

She did this sort of thing all the time. We never thought of her unusual language as pathological... maybe a little airhead-y but nothing to worry about. For what it's worth, she was a very gifted and creative writer and never wrote any of these malapropisms.
posted by workerant at 10:47 AM on February 23, 2012

It's common, and it happens to me a lot when I'm sandwich.

I wouldn't worry about it. Even the examples you mentioned seem to have their own sort of logic, which makes me think it's just tiredness--the Modern English/Missing Persons thing is something to be proud of. No-one should have that kind of 80s music knowledge at their beck and call. And the "phone alarms/phones on fire" thing makes sense to me: Phone alarms - fire alarms. Maybe just your lazy sleepy brain making a connection it shouldn't have. Aardvark.
posted by Kafkaesque at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2012

Perhaps you're thinking of



These substitutions are more morphologically related to the correct terms rather than related semantically.
posted by bad grammar at 3:54 PM on February 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having to multi-task a lot (mainly due to having a child - part of your brain gets partitioned off to it) has done similar things to me over the past year and a half. I speak when my attention is on something else, and so the speech comes out funny. I also seem to have troubles with hearing and/or comprehension.

This is to say: is your attention on something else a lot lately?
posted by kitcat at 6:34 PM on February 23, 2012

I liken it to having a brain like a cup that runneth over - I only have so many words in it, and when I learn some new ones, old ones are displaced; or if I have to dredge the bottom for some old ones, others spill out.
posted by peagood at 7:37 PM on February 23, 2012

This happens to me after a migraine, only in writing, not speech. Like you, I know I am not forming words properly, but I can't help myself. It disturbs me greatly when it happens but thankfully everything goes back to normal a short while later.

This doesn't strike me as no big deal, especially if it's gotten worse. If you have decent insurance or the money, a trip to the neurologist couldn't hurt and might give you peace of mind.

In my case, I was told I could have an MRI to rule out a tumor, but it would have cost north of $1,000 so I passed.
posted by parrot_person at 11:54 AM on February 24, 2012

This happens to me, and it's fibro fog

"Fibro fog – also known as fibromyalgia fog and brain fog – is a term commonly used for the cognitive difficulties that can occur with fibromyalgia. These include confusion, lapses in memory, word mix-ups and difficulty concentrating."

"Fibromyalgia is a common syndrome in which a person has long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues.

Fibromyalgia has also been linked to fatigue, sleep problems, headaches, depression, and anxiety.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause is unknown. Possible causes or triggers of fibromyalgia include:

Physical or emotional trauma

Abnormal pain response - areas in the brain that are responsible for pain may react differently in fibromyalgia patients

Sleep disturbances

Infection, such as a virus, although none has been identified

Fibromyalgia is most common among women aged 20 to 50.


Pain in the main symptom of fibromyalgia. It may be mild to severe.

Painful areas are called tender points. Tender points are found in the soft tissue on the back of the neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, hips, shins, elbows, and knees. The pain then spreads out from these areas.

The pain may feel like a deep ache, or a shooting, burning pain.

The joints are not affected, although the pain may feel like it is coming from the joints.

People with fibromyalgia tend to wake up with body aches and stiffness. For some patients, pain improves during the day and gets worse at night. Some patients have pain all day long.

Pain may get worse with activity, cold or damp weather, anxiety, and stress.

Fatigue, and sleep problems are seen in almost all patients with fibromyalgia. Many say that they can't get to sleep or stay asleep, and they feel tired when they wake up.

Other symptoms of fibromyalgia may include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Memory and concentration problems

Numbness and tingling in hands and feet


Reduced ability to exercise

Tension or migraine headaches."
posted by Year of meteors at 4:09 PM on February 26, 2012

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