MIxed up word pairs.
January 26, 2014 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone else experience or have an explanation or name for this issue? There are certain words that I always seem to really need concentrate to recall. Example: "symmetrical" -- I will almost always need to scan through my vocabulary very carefully to come up with this word when I want it. Also, I will often produce "ambidextrous" as a potential response. Clearly there is a relationship between symmetry and ambidextrous, I see that it's not an outlandish mistake, but I still often have to work my way through the process, even though I KNOW this is a word pair I often have confused in the past. Similarly, "manipulative" and "exploitive". I almost have a sense of anxiety as I search the brain for one of these words because I know I will often come up with the wrong one. Again here, manipulation and exploitation have a similar quality in that they are both ways of treating others as objects, but they are clearly not synonymous. Maybe there are 3 or 4 other pairs that frustrate me as well. Anyone?
posted by mmf to Science & Nature (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Here's a related previous question. Verbal paraphrasia is the name of the phenomenon, and it's pretty common. Happens to me regularly.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:24 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, this happens to me too. It may give others the impression of being less "quick" as I speak more carefully or slowly, but I think it's a sign of a more fluid and creative mind.
posted by Blitz at 2:31 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could come up with mnemonic techniques to remember and recall them. Just for example, for symmetry (although not symmetrical) you could think of "same tree". For "ambidextrous" you could think of "ample dexterity". Everyone has words they have trouble recalling at will, so maybe if you treat your situation as a similar type of situation, you will find it easier to keep these confused words separate. I stumble on the word "lucid". I always remember that the word I'm looking for starts with an "L" but then I get stuck. So now when I'm searching for this word I think of sharp-minded seniors "Lou and Sid" playing shuffleboard and having a very lucid conversation.
posted by Dansaman at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2014

I have this experience but generally only with easy, everyday words. However, unlike you I am usually unaware of the mistake until someone calls me on, although for some reason I miss "oven" and "stove" often enough that I have to stop and think. In my case, even mild sleep deficits makes it worse.
posted by metahawk at 3:40 PM on January 26, 2014

I do this a lot. My worst ones are where I mix up Oregon and Vermont, and the names Amy and Sarah. If I'm speaking off the cuff, there's not much greater than a 50% chance I'll say the right one on the first try. I assume that at some point, probably when I was really young, I got some wires crossed and they got stuck that way.

I preemptively warn Amys and Sarahs when I meet them, but apart from that, I don't really worry about it. I just tell people about my amusing brain malfunctions when they come up and I've never had anyone act like it was anything worse than mildly weird. And my boyfriend and I have a joke where, if I'm screwing my words up persistently, I offer to go put on a bunch of makeup so I'm at least pretty.

It's obviously a deficit to some degree to forget words or to mix them up, but unless it's a new symptom or something, I really don't think it's anything to be anxious about.

Brains are enormously complex but often glitchy machines. Everyone's brain does something weird, so I think if you just tell people when you get something confused, most will understand. What kind of person wouldn't, after all?
posted by ernielundquist at 5:34 PM on January 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do this with oven/stove too! Also with rug/carpet, and elevator/escalator. One of my exes would mix up Tuesday/Wednesday.
posted by southern_sky at 5:39 PM on January 26, 2014

Yeah, I always mix up the names Heather and Megan. I have to think hard to decide which of the two names is the right one. It's almost as though my brain connects them in the same way my brain connects words that rhyme (and when I'm really tired I tend to start calling Megan 'Heather'. It's embarrassing).
posted by marimeko at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2014

Tangentially related: my sister has a friend called Gisela. The name achieved no traction with me and I could not remember it until I found it was cognate to the French name Giselle; thereafter I never forgot it.
posted by jet_silver at 7:33 PM on January 26, 2014

I do this with mirror and window all the time (especially when talking about driving). About 90% of the time, no one notices, and if they do, they mostly find it endearing. It's just a weird brain quirk.
posted by superlibby at 9:19 PM on January 26, 2014

Q-tips/toothpicks, dentist/veterinarian, and (embarrassingly) wedding/funeral. I always just figured everyone has some crossed wires in their internal word banks.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:35 PM on January 26, 2014

I mix up "right" and "left," which as you could imagine is problematic.
posted by aka burlap at 7:40 AM on January 27, 2014

To be fair- Megan and Heather are basically the same name.

Using them interchangeably is more an efficiency than a mix up. And if the borscht belt is to be believed, the same goes for weddings and funerals.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 7:51 AM on January 27, 2014

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