TIP-of-the-TONGUE & how to HANDLE it
We’ve all had Tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) moments. When we just can’t seem to retrieve the word we want. How do you handle yourself when your TOT moment comes? Do TOTs occur on certain words, in certain situations?
Here is a 45 second clip of a 2016 U. S. Republican presidential debate, Rick Perry, ‘tip-of-the-tongue’ ‘oops’ moment.
Daniel Schacter in his book The Seven sins of memory quotes Harvard psychologists Roger Brown and David McNeill’s research about TOT:
‘Evidence from diaries of TOT experiences suggest that college students experience roughly one or two TOTs each week, compared to about two and four TOTs moments per week in the elderly, with middle-aged adults somewhere in the middle.
Though TOTs happen most often for names of people, they also occur for other proper names, including places, titles of books and movies, and names of familiar tune, as well as for common words.’
TOTs occur across virtually all languages. Many of those TOTs are the names of people we haven’t seen in a while.
My prior career working as a speech pathologist working with helping head injured people improve their speech and language, and with my own TOTs has revealed:
When you can’t retrieve a word you want, often the word you can retrieve, is very similar to the word you want.
Let me give you an example.
A number of years back, when there were physical, video cassette stores, I went into a store to get a movie I had heard of.
At the store counter I told the shop assistant I wanted the movie ‘Slippers’. The assistant promptly retrieved a video cassette from a nearby shelf. But it wasn’t the title the assistant gave me wasn’t ‘Slippers‘. However, the title was very similar to word ‘Slippers’ – in the following way.
It had the same number of syllables. The same syllable stress (ie. SLIPpers). It began and ended with the same letter/sound. And it was in the same vocabulary category (ie. Footwear). For 12 seconds, consider what was the title of the movie. (The title is below)*.
What’s the purpose in relaying this story to you?
With the knowledge that in a TOT moment, the desired word is similar to the word we can retrieve,
here are field-tested techniques to confidently handle TOTs moments:
When you TOT comes, never panic. Show no fear. Panic or stewing aloud or silently about not being able to find the desired work, significantly reduces the chances of accessing the word.
Say to your audience, in a matter of fact tone, something similar to the following. (+)‘I’ve just lost that word for a moment. It will come back to me’. The value of saying that sentence is:
#1. It has ‘instructed’ your mind to not panic.
#2 It has instructed your mind to search for the word you want, while you do other things.
#3 Through self-disclosure, you signal to the audience that the temporary loss of a word is not significant.
#4 It conveys self-possession. The state or feeling of being calm, confident, and in control of one’s feelings.
Regularly I say the above sentences(+) when I have a TOT moment, and 99% of the time within a minute or too the desired word will pop into my head. Often when this happens I’ll say to the audience, ‘Ah that word has just come back’.
With regard to the Slippers/Sneakers example above, I’m very confident if the shop assistant hadn’t readily retrieved the Sneakers move, and I had said aloud something to the effect, ‘Not to worry, I’ll just browse some other titles and it will come to me’ that ‘Sneakers’ would have soon popped into my mind.
(*’Sneakers’. Sneakers was a sleuth movie featuring Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier and River Phoenix).
Own the Conversation
For the next seven days, do the following whenever you have a TOT moment.
- Say ‘I’ve just lost the word for the moment, it will come back to me.’
- Then carry on with other tasks or matters at hand.
- Reflect on the outcome of doing #1 and #2.
p.s. here is an example of someone who rarely seems to have a TOT moment. B. Obama fluently answering a loaded question.