Finding the Right Words
July 7, 2004 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Does anyone else go through phases where they just can't think of particular words? Eg, you're writing something and you just can't think of the word, though you know its out there and your mind is generally packed with lexicographical goodness? Any idea on reasons why this happens and any as to how you get back to your usual word(l)iness?

Cos I've been like that for the last two weeks and its driving me mad! I'm still trying to think of a word from last Friday!
posted by biffa to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
Have you tried a reverse dictionary?
posted by Danelope at 8:51 AM on July 7, 2004

Absolutely. I have this problem all the time. I'm currently blaming it on my weight-lifting causing me to turn into a total meathead.
posted by gramcracker at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2004

Smoke too much of the ganja and it can happen.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 9:03 AM on July 7, 2004

Yes. Curiously, I find it all flows more easily if I've had very little sleep. That jet-lagged, half a pace behind feeling is for some odd reason very conducive to letting me write. It seems to stop my brain objecting or trying to find better words as I'm getting the thoughts down.
posted by humuhumu at 9:08 AM on July 7, 2004

Is it to do with objects? If it is, it could be a mild anomia. You only really need to worry about it being anomia if you find yourself in a position where you are holding, say, a cup and when someone asks you what's in your hand you literally cannot tell them, or find yourself describing it as a drinking vessel without any trace of irony.

If its just a fancy schmancy term that you like to drop in conversation or writing but eludes you at the point of utterance, it happens to most people, but to some more than others. It happens to me a lot, but I put it down to the experimental pharmocology I undertook in my youth. It seems to have blasted indesriminate holes in my lexicon.

Took me ages to remember the word pharmacology
posted by davehat at 9:21 AM on July 7, 2004

Aphasia. Lots of people have it to one degree or another. The word "aphasia" is actually the only word I never forget. The rest of the time I wander around talking about "Farmer's mannequins" (scarecrows) and "word books" (dictionaries). My girlfriend said it sometimes sounds like I'm using English as a second language.

I find the three things that really lesson this tendency are rest, B-vitamins, and using my hands to talk. Actually not kidding about the hand-usage: It truly frees up the synaptic connectors between what I'm picturing and my vocabulary.
posted by pomegranate at 9:29 AM on July 7, 2004

I suspect this is nothing more than the highly localized death of some brain cells; nothing unusual about it whatsoever. You will either relearn the word, or some perception will make a new connection to a redundant storage area.
posted by mischief at 9:33 AM on July 7, 2004

You need to drink more. Kill those weak brain cells, so that the strong ones might take over their function.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:12 AM on July 7, 2004

Do you speak more than one language*? I'm constantly having brainfarts where I can only think of the Italian word and not its English equivalant or vice versa. I find a thesarus and Foo to Bar dictionaries useful, as well as my granmother's old trick of running through the alphabet.

If that produces no results, I suck it up and ask somebody...usually making a complete idjit of myself. (See also: Trying to say "He's a bit anal" in Italian...)

*Of note, I would imagine that this happens a bit less to people who began learning other languages during childhood and not at the ripe old age of 22...
posted by romakimmy at 10:14 AM on July 7, 2004

Coffee opens the mental floodgates.
posted by gottabefunky at 11:11 AM on July 7, 2004

Oh - what word are you trying to think of?
posted by gottabefunky at 11:12 AM on July 7, 2004

It's actually called "Tip of the Tongue" syndrome, and while it's been a topic of psychological study for quite a while now, I don't think much has come of the research. I remember being covered in a couple of college psych-type classes--there's no real "cure" for it, and they still don't really seem to understand why it happens.
posted by LairBob at 11:28 AM on July 7, 2004

If you are taking an anti-depressant or anti-convulsive, you might look into that. Aphasia is a known, if uncommon, side effect of some drugs.
posted by cairnish at 11:34 AM on July 7, 2004

It's called "getting old."
posted by kindall at 12:04 PM on July 7, 2004

As mentioned, it's called Aphasia.

Funny thing about aphasia. There are two major types: Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia. With Broca's aphasia, you know what words you want to say, but you can't quite put your finger on what they are, so you talk around the words (excessive use of "kinda like"). With Wernick's aphasia, you have complete confidence in the words you use, but they come out all wrong.

So, for example, a Broca's aphasia patient might say, "I went to... the place... with the big pictures on the wall... the... movies house, and it was good."

A Wernick's aphasia patient might say, "I had an elational database of pleasure went to the house of pig bictures."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2004

[thinks of clavdivs...]
posted by five fresh fish at 4:29 PM on July 7, 2004

The Broca's aphasia sounds like the right symptoms, though I wouldn't want to right off kindall's suggestion, but it does seem to come and go. Not on any drugs (except beer obviously)
posted by biffa at 2:10 AM on July 8, 2004

You don't have aphasia. Aphasia is caused by strokes, tumors, traumatic brain injury, etc. Maybe primary progressive aphasia, but that's rare.
posted by kmel at 6:55 AM on July 8, 2004

Well I didn't think I had, but now you've gone and scared me with your additional suggestion!
posted by biffa at 7:20 AM on July 8, 2004

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