Wyh can't I produce coherent speech any more?
January 12, 2008 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Why do I seem to be increasingly mixing up my words/letters in writing and speech?

I seem to be noticing a growing tendency in myself to switch around words and letters when speaking or writing. I've always made regular typos (teh, frist, etc), and last year I noticed that I would often get the space in the wrong spot while typing as well (eg; th espace). That seems pretty straightforward typing-faster-than-thinking stuff. However, last year I also noticed that I would occasionally do the same thing (rearrange both letters and spaces) when handwriting, which doesn't seem equivalent - I have to consciously shape the letters, not just time the speed of my fingertips. I attributed this to the complete lack of handwriting in my everyday life, and moved on. However, I began to notice that very infrequently, I would switch around the position of words in a sentence when writing as well. I've also begun confusing homophones (I actually wrote their for they're!) and then a few weeks ago, I heard myself saying words in the wrong order (it was something like 'until work I get to' for 'until I get to work'). What's with this? Do other people do this as well? Should this be anonymous so nobody finds out about my fatal brain tumour this way? Or is it possible that I've always done these things and never noticed until now? (seems unlikely, it would have been noticed at school).

Background: 22, native English speaker, good at foreign languages as well, normally very articulate, excellent speller, never even the shadow of a previous problem reading/writing.
posted by jacalata to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Are you getting enough sleep, or under an extreme amount of stress? I know it seems silly, but when I'm thinking about a stressful situation while I go about my normal day, I do this same thing. As for less sleep, I guess I'm just depriving my brain.

Let me know if you find a way to work around it. I hate when my brain and my words can't get along.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2008

Have you thought about seeing a doctor about this? I usually confuse their and there, and sometimes misspell myself as myslef.
I've also put it down to my brain working faster than my hands and hence the confusion, but I've always wanted to get a second opinion on it.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:05 AM on January 12, 2008

Seconding mitzyjalapeno's suggestion of getting more sleep if you aren't.
posted by hadjiboy at 6:06 AM on January 12, 2008

are you a touch typist? I type fast but with only one finger of each hand, that might be why I get the same issues in sentences, also I tend to look at the keyboard more because my fingers need to move more.
posted by spacefire at 6:21 AM on January 12, 2008

i noticed that happening in my late teens. i still do it some in my early 30s but interestingly, not nearly as much since i started taking an ssri (antidepressant). that's an overkill solution if you're otherwise feeling fine, but i just thought it was interesting.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:26 AM on January 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

You sound tired. Also, you sound like my other Australian uni friends, who are terrible at the "they're"/"their" and related business. Maybe you need to change who you hang out with.
posted by divabat at 6:26 AM on January 12, 2008

My answer depends on what other languages you speak, to what degree of fluency and how often you are using them in day to day life, and if this has changed over the period you describe

Everything you describe is perfectly explicable in a stressed multilingual enviornment.
The first things you describe I do all the time, even on the odd ocassion I'm hand-writing. The verbal word order I do when I'm speaking German after a break of a few months, I make exactly the kind of error you mention with my English word order.

Absolutely keep in mind that this can be a neurological but here's what I would advise:-

1. document the signs religiously over a few weeks in a journal with specific examples.
2. Ask those who know you best if they spotted any differences over the period you describe.
3. in that time find out if you can get an appointment with a neurologist and bring him/her the evidence.

In the absence of any other signs, a medical professional will probably treat this conservatively, and keep you under observation, or may feel further inverstigations are warranted.
I'm pretty much an Occam's razor kind of gal though and I'm going to hazard a guess that as you became aware of the original errors you are now far, far more conscious of others. What seems to you like a progression may just be your increasing awareness and worry.

as always, a medical professional is the only one who can put your mind at ease.
posted by Wilder at 6:34 AM on January 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I do this sometimes too; not in speech but often in writing, typed or handwritten. Always have. I think it's because my mind works very fast and runs before my words. If that makes any sense.

I don't think it's anything to worry about--but if you are concerned ask your doctor for a referral to a neurologist.
posted by miss tea at 6:35 AM on January 12, 2008

sorry, just to be clear, I make word order errors not just when I'm speaking German, it's just that your example I could parse easily into German, ...bis ich bei meine Arbeit bin...
I make other errors in English when speaking other languages, while tired, under stress or time pressure, after reading a long time in that other language.
Have you had a lot of course stuff in the other languages recently?
Even monolingual native English speakers tend to express themselves differently after immersion with a book with a completely different sociolect/dialect/idiolect. (Try speaking normally after an intense session with Joyce!)
posted by Wilder at 6:43 AM on January 12, 2008

I'm 27, and I've noticed I've started doing this a lot, too. My typing mistakes tend to be my mind working too fast for my fingers - so I might mean to write "The dog jumped" but it might come out "the djump" (I mash the words together - writing the second one before I've finished the first one).

And when I'm speaking, I switch words around so "pile of dirt" becomes "dirt of pile."

I don't know what it is but I do know my mind is always working rapidly and sometimes my mouth and my fingers can't keep up. I write for a living and this sometimes comes up with very entertaining results for my editor but I sometimes wonder if I'm either just too tired or if I need to slow down my mental processes a little bit.
posted by sutel at 7:26 AM on January 12, 2008

I do these things too, and have been chalking it up to not enough sleep and stress. I also switch my d's and b's when typing and writing, and very frequently leave letters out of words when hand writing things. It's usually when I'm stressed and rushing, so it may be a case of the brain moving faster than the hands, like miss tea and sutel say above.

I'd say you're fine, but if you do get it checked and it's something else, please let the rest of us know! :)
posted by sarahmelah at 7:29 AM on January 12, 2008

Yeah, this has happened to me, but I just chalked it up to getting a little older. The sleep/stress angle sounds plausible, too.
posted by sugarfish at 7:31 AM on January 12, 2008

Definitely stress. I had problems spelling after taking the bar exam, doing things like mixing up "their" and "they're." And just yesterday, I spent an inordinate amount of time staring at my computer monitor and trying to figure out why "lowd" looked wrong... I think it may also have something to do with periods of intense volumes of reading and writing -- that connotes stress, but maybe it also leads to some sort of short-circuit in the brain on its own!
posted by footnote at 7:46 AM on January 12, 2008

You didn't mention if you were taking any prescriptions. That's a known side effect in some people of some drugs. If you are taking a prescription, mention this to your doctor.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:04 AM on January 12, 2008

I've had the same thing happen to me as well. Except for the bit about being a native English speaker, it could have been me writing your post. You are not alone.

I have always assumed this kind of symptom was a consequence of:

a) fatigue;
b) typing pretty fast without having received any formal training as a typist; and
c) having two or three foreign languages jostling for space in my brain (I am a native Spanish speaker, regularly using English and French at work and currently struggling miserably to learn Japanese).

I have never worried too much over this, although I do find it annoying and means I have to be extra careful at work. I have had the typo problems you describe, and often find myself using some pretty weird sentence structures. It definitely happens more often when transitioning from one language to another - for example, when I go back to Spain after a long period abroad, I usually need a couple days to get back into the "groove" of the Spanish language again.

Stressful situations do not help, either: just tonight I was trying to help a French friend who had banged up his head pretty badly and, worried as I was with getting him home safely, I pretty much lost all ability to speak French (my friend's head is fine now; I am not sure the French language will recover that easily from the mangling I subjected it to, though).

So, to sum up: I would suggest making a point of getting some more sleep and not fretting too much over it. By all means go see a doctor if you really are worried or if it gets noticeably worse, but otherwise I would just embrace the fact that our brains are not perfect and it is only fair that they drop the ball every now and again.
posted by doctorpiorno at 8:12 AM on January 12, 2008

When I was in school teachers kept telling me I was dysgraphic-- a great reader who had a difficult time with the mechanics of writing, both on a keyboard and on paper. But when tested, I was an excellent speller. For me it all has to do with stress. I am mister typo when it comes to posting on line, writing papers, carefully working notes. But at work, and when writing in my journal, I make almost no errors. But it returns when I am stressed.

It's also worse when I am speaking and reading foreign languages. I used to speak two or three languages other than English on a daily basis. The more time I spend in English, the fewer errors I make (and the worse my Russian and Czech are).

May I suggest that you are merely noticing something that isn't all that unusual? When we used typewriters, we had to be accurate. We typed slowly and carefully. We're all used to writing so much and so quickly, I think accuracy is becoming obsolete.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:26 AM on January 12, 2008

Best answer: Nthing the foreign language thing. I see from your previous questions that you lived in France for a while -- I never had any problems at all with homophones or spelling, until I moved to Italy. I had studied foreign languages (French, Italian, German) for years, and never had that effect until I moved abroad. It felt like my brain suddenly realized how arbitrary the rules of language could be, and I lost a bit of my moorings. This has continued even though I moved back to an English-speaking country years ago. (I suspect some of it also has to do with age, and some of it with generally losing my 20-something conviction that getting everything right ALL THE TIME was VERY IMPORTANT!!! and what is WRONG with the rest of the world?!?!?; in other words, I just chilled out about some of this stuff in general.)

If it's bothering you, however, it might be worth talking to a neurologist. It's hard for us on this side of the screen to know how intrusive or debilitating this is for you, so don't let us write something off that's really a problem.
posted by occhiblu at 9:49 AM on January 12, 2008

When I learned computer programming languages, it messed up my English slightly. Don't worry, it's normal.
posted by randomstriker at 9:51 AM on January 12, 2008

If you are still playing football, I recommend not doing headers anymore, or if that's not feasible, quitting playing.
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on January 12, 2008

That happened to me after I started texting a lot on that tiny almost-but-not-quite qwerty keyboard on my cellphone. The kind with two alphabets on each key. Completely screwed up my touch typing skill on the kb until I got used to it.
posted by Arthur Dent at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2008

This started for me right after I got Lasik surgery. Before then I had always been incredibly accurate--had been a professional proofreader in my early years, typed 120 wpm with virtually no errors, etc. I don't know why, as the Lasik left me with 20/20 vision. Lately it's gotten quite a bit worse and so has my vision. Interestingly, I make mistakes that couldn't be due to vision--for instance I switch letters up when writing longhand.
posted by Enroute at 11:03 AM on January 12, 2008

I had this happen as a side-effect of medication--scopalamine, I think it was. It was awful. I couldn't read, either. Are you on any meds?

If it were me and had gone on longer than a week or two, I would consult a neurologist.
posted by Riverine at 12:17 PM on January 12, 2008

I'm not a doctor, but I would not be concerned about any of these "symptoms" except maybe the last one (speaking words in the wrong order) and it sounds like it's not something that is happening with any regularity?

Everything else sounds pretty normal unless it is still happening even if you slow down and deliberately take extra time to write/type things correctly.
posted by juv3nal at 3:57 PM on January 12, 2008

This started to happen to me around my early or mid-twenties as well. I figured it was getting a little older, fatigue (I get tired more easily than I used to), stress, etc. It happens less frequently now, but it really freaked me out when it started to happen.
posted by bassjump at 4:06 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for the answers! Responding to points made
- lack of sleep is definitely an issue. That could solve the mystery right there.
- I speak French pretty fluently, and as occhiblu noted I lived there the year before last, then I took another French course starting six months ago and also started reading and watching french material again, but not to what I thought of as a significant level (a book/movie a fortnight maybe, and translating a page of text for uni?). It's an interesting explanation, I hadn't thought about it like that.
- spacefire: I'm a touch typist, never look at the keyboard. I basically always hit the right letters, but sometimes in the wrong order.
- divabat: Actually, I hang out with Grammar Nazis: I usually am one myself!
- jamjam: I do still play football, but I've probably only headed the ball about three times ever, I'm afraid of it because of a couple of traumatic headers using my face in my early years.

I'm not on any medication, and this isn't something that worries me hugely - I don't actually hand in work with mistakes, I just make them and have to fix them, and I've only noticed the speaking thing once or twice. It's more that I've always been pretty perfect at this stuff (language/literacy) and so feel disconcerted when I make stupid mistakes. I've marked occhiblu as best answer as it sounds pretty similar to my changing level of perfectionism since I left school, and I've also been learning about the historical development of the french spelling system, which does give a bit of insight into the tenuous connection between modern spelling and pronunciation!
posted by jacalata at 4:52 PM on January 12, 2008

I haven't read everyones responses. But exactly this has been happening to me for years. I am not really bilingual and don't have a brain tumour, and haven't had any strokes.

I put it down to old age and lack of sleep.

Not really old age.... I just feel that way when I've had no sleep!

I'm ~ 40.

I'm not worried about it. And I could see a doctor whenever I wanted. I'm in a super country for that. I'm not an anything... but I reckon it's nothing.

Good luck, whatever you do possum.
posted by taff at 11:20 PM on January 12, 2008

I do this also. I first noticed it around 2000/2001, when I was in my late 20's and my MS was first making itself known. It definitely gets worse when I am tired or stressed. I'm delighted to read this thread. It's reassuring to know that that otherwise "healthy" people get this too. I'll add this to my other list of symptoms of what I call "Not Being 25 Anymore Syndrome".
posted by goshling at 5:58 PM on January 13, 2008

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