freudian slips and appearance of conversation repetition
December 24, 2003 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Ever say an uncommon word or phrase -- such as "doxology" or "round-a-bout" -- in a crowded room and hear it travel across the room to different conversations? This happens to me all the time, but I have no idea what the term for it is, or if there even is one. Any guesses? In a related question, what do you call a freudian slip that you hear instead of say? (For insteance someone says "hold my glass" and you hear "hold my ass".)
posted by woil to Society & Culture (6 answers total)
I would guess if you said a uncommon word and that started getting passed around, it could be said you've created a 'meme'. Not sure though, that word gets way overused nowadays.
posted by bobo123 at 6:51 PM on December 24, 2003

Response by poster: So has this for mame:

"A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another."

Except that what I'm talking about isn't exactly a unit of information. It's more of a phenomenon that seems to happens in crouded rooms with multiple conversations in earshot of each other.

I suppose it is possible that there isn't a term for this...
posted by woil at 10:49 PM on December 24, 2003

As for freudian slips for what you hear in stead of what you say, there are mondegreens (though they only pertain to song lyrics, not everyday conversation).
posted by rjs at 12:38 AM on December 25, 2003

In Les Parents Terribles, a film by Jean Cocteau, the characters repeat "Tout le monde dit que c'est in-croy-able!" to each other, emphasizing the repeated words and phrases the characters pick up from one another. I always associate the repeated words phenomenon with the Cocteau film.
posted by rschram at 9:00 AM on December 25, 2003

i don't think memetics really comes into play here - i believe it's a simple associative priming effect. current models of memory in cognitive psych posit that both our linguistic knowledge and our conceptual knowledge are represented in memory as an associative network consisting of interlinkages betweeen differentially activated conceptual nodes. the act of perceiving a word (or producing it, or even viewing a picture corresponding to it in the case of simple nouns) increases the activation of the corresponding node, thus making it easier to activate in the near future - thus, the more you hear a word, the easier it becomes to process it in the near future, and the more likely you are to use it again soon.

the perception doesn't even have to be accompanied by conscious comprehension - you can prime people by flashing text at them too quickly for them to comprehend - so overhearing a word in a crowded room should definitely be enough to trigger the effect.

fascinatingly, the activation 'spreads' through the network too, so hearing a word doesn't just activate that word - it also increases the activation of all phonologically or semantically related words. the same thing even happens with syntactic structures - hearing lots of sentences in the passive construction makes it easier for you to comprehend future sentences in it, and also makes you use it more. (this is all entirely unconscious, of course.)

here's a pdf that reviews some of the empirical literature on this. i'm having trouble finding good links on it, though...
posted by lardgrass at 6:27 PM on December 25, 2003

Response by poster: thanks lardgrass!
posted by woil at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2003

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