Language errors are human, and we all make them from time to time. Even if you’ve been speaking English from the first time you uttered a word, you’re still prone to tripping over a phrase once in a while.
But unlike small, random mistakes, some language errors happen time and again. So much so that they’ve got their own names. As lovers of all things language, Day Translations decided to share some insight about linguistic lapses and why they happen.
Here are some exciting backstories behind the missteps of the mouth!
Most Common Language Errors
Spoonerisms occur when two sounds in a phrase are switched. Although they’re usually mistakes, they can also be used to create fun wordplay. A typical example is saying “mad bom” instead of “bad mom”.
This language error was named after William Archibald Spooner, who was a don at the University of Oxford. He’d often mix up letters in his entertaining quirks, and so, his name became attached to the phenomenon.
It’s believed that spoonerisms happen due to a problem in the “speech plan”, which is pretty much the plan your brain comes up with to move your mouth and emit sounds that convey what you’re thinking (or want to say). For example, when you say ‘sweets’, your brain needs to let your mouth move to go from the “s” sound to the “ts” sound with vowels in between. And sometimes, your brain can get mixed up because two possible speech plans exist, and your brain isn’t too sure which one to use, so it just splits the difference.
Eggcorns happen when we accidentally change a common phrase into something similar or something that sounds the same. It’s like saying “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes”.
Coined by linguist Geoffrey Pullum in 2003, the name for this language error is itself an eggcorn of the word acorn. While some language errors like malapropisms make no sense at all, eggcorns tend to make some sense because the sound that’s replaced doesn’t fall away entirely.
Mondegreens happen when you mishear something, but it still makes sense. And it often happens with music and poetry. Let’s take Jimmy Hendrix’s “Purple Rain”. In the song, the singer says, “Scuse me while I kiss the sky”, but many people think it sounds like “Scuse me while I kiss this guy”.
The language error originated in 1954 when author Sylvia Wright detailed how she misheard a line in a poem that was written as “They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray and laid him on the green”, but she heard “and lady mondegreen” instead.
Many psychologists believe this error happens because poets and musicians use words and terms that not everyone might be familiar with. And there’s still some disagreement on exactly why your brain comes up with false hearing. Some say the brain fills in the blanks with what makes the most sense, while others argue that the false words are what the brain most wants to hear.
Freudian slips occur when the unconscious mind slips to the surface, but many people use this term to define any kind of speech error. There actually aren’t a lot of general examples of this language error because they’re connected to an individual speaker’s innermost thoughts.
Sigmund Freud pinned the term Freudian Slips in his work in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which details a plethora of errors he argued carried great significance. Sadly, many of Freud’s theories have been discredited over the years.
Cognitive psychologists now believe that slips of the tongue are caused much more innocent explanations than the ones Freud suggested. You’re much more likely to hit the gibberish road when you’re tired or distracted, but there is still something whimsical about the idea that someone’s true feelings could be given away by a mispronounced word or the wrong choice of words.
So next time you ask for “pashed motato” instead of mashed potato, it’s not necessarily because there’s something your subconscious mind wants to tell you or the rest of the world. It might really just be a simple slip of the tongue that can be the source of great entertainment.