That Word Is On The Tip Of Your Tongue – But
Been there. Done that. Mid-thought, mid-sentence, suddenly the word on the tip of the tongue just won’t drop off. In this story for Smarter Living in The New York Times, Tim Herrara assures us that these momentary hiccups are not a sign of dementia. The truth is losing that a word from time to time is very common and can happen at any age. It really is no big deal. When it does occur, we are simply experiencing what scientists call a “tip-of-the-tongue state.” Phew. What’s your trick for remembering names? Let Herrara know at email@example.com or tweet him @timherrera.
There you are in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly you draw a blank on a particular word. It’s right there … if you could just remember …
You move on, and hours later, something jogs your memory and the word comes to you, long after its relevance has passed.
So, what happened?
You experienced what researchers call a tip-of-the-tongue state, that agonizing moment when you know precisely what you want to say but you fail to produce the word or phrase. Far from being telltale signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, these moments are simply part of the way we communicate, and they’re more or less universal. (And, though research has shown their frequency increases with age, they’re typically nothing to stress over.)
“You can’t talk to anybody, in any culture, in any language, in any age group, that doesn’t know what you’re talking about” when you describe a tip-of-the-tongue state, said Lise Abrams, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who has studied the phenomenon for 20 years. Researchers have even found occurrences among sign language users. (Those, they call tip-of-the-finger states.)
We’re more likely to draw blanks on words we use less frequently — like abacus or palindrome — but there are also categories of words that lead to tip-of-the-tongue states more often.
Proper names are one of those categories. There’s no definitive theory, but one reason might be that proper names are arbitrary links to the people they represent, so people with the same name don’t possess the same semantic information the way that common nouns do, Abrams said.
Here’s an experiment: Think of the first and last name of the foul-mouthed chef who has a cooking show on Fox. Now think of the hand-held device with numbered buttons you use to add, subtract, multiply or divide.
Which was easier to recall?…