Sigmund Freud (18561939). Psychopathology of Everyday Life. 1914.
V. Mistakes in Speech
ALTHOUGH the ordinary material of speech of our mother-tongue seems to be guarded against forgetting, its application, however, more often succumbs to another disturbance which is familiar to us as slips of the tongue. What we observe in normal persons as slips of the tongue gives the same impression as the first step of the so-called paraphasias which manifest themselves under pathologic conditions.
I am in the exceptional position of being about to refer to a previous work on the subject. In the year 1895 Meringer and C. Mayer published a study on Mistakes in Speech and Reading, with whose view-points I do not agree. One of the authors, who is the spokesman in the text, is a philologist actuated by a linguistic interest to examine the rules governing those slips. He hoped to deduce from these rules the existence of a definite psychic mechanism, whereby the sounds of a word, of a sentence, and even the words themselves, would be associated and connected with one another in a quite peculiar manner (p. 10).
The authors grouped the examples of speech-mistakes collected by them first according to purely descriptive view-points, such as interchangings (e.g., the Milo of Venus instead of the Venus of Milo), as anticipations (e.g., the shoes made her sorft the shoes made her feet sore), as echoes and post positions, as contaminations (e.g., I will soon him home, instead of I will soon go home and I will see him), and substitutions (e.g., he entrusted his money to a savings crank, instead of a savings bank).1 Besides these principal categories there are some others of lesser importance (or of lesser significance for our purpose). In this grouping it makes no difference whether the transposition, disfigurement, fusion, etc., affects single sounds of the word or syllables, or whole words of the concerned sentence.
To explain the various forms of mistakes in speech, Meringer assumes a varied psychic value of phonetics. As soon as the innervation affects the first syllable of a word, or the first word of a sentence, the stimulating process immediately strikes the succeeding sounds, and the following words, and in so far as these innervations are synchronous they may effect some changes in one another. The stimulus of the psychically more intensive sound rings before or continues echoing, and thus disturbs the less important process of innervation. It is necessary therefore to determine which are the most important sounds of a word. Meringer states: If one wishes to know which sound of a word possesses the greatest intensity he should examine himself while searching for a forgotten word, for example, a name. That which first returns to consciousness invariably had the greatest intensity prior to the forgetting (p. 160). Thus the most important sounds are the initial sound of the root-syllable and the initial sound of the word itself, as well as one or another of the accentuated vowels (p. 162).
Here I cannot help voicing a contradiction. Whether or not the initial sound of the name belongs to the most important elements of the word, it is surely not true that in the case of the forgetting of the word it first returns to consciousness; the above rule is therefore of no use. When we observe ourselves during the search for a forgotten name we are comparatively often forced to express the opinion that it begins with a certain letter. This conviction proves to be as often unfounded as founded. Indeed, I would even go so far as to assert that in the majority of cases one reproduces a false initial sound. Also in our example Signorelli the substitutive name lacked the initial sound, and the principal syllables were lost; on the other hand, the less important pair of syllables elli returned to consciousness in the substitutive name Botticelli.
How little substitutive names respect the initial sound of the lost names may be learned from the following case. One day I found it impossible to recall the name of the small country whose capital is Monte Carlo. The substitutive names were as follows: Piedmont, Albania, Montevideo, Colico. In place of Albania Montenegro soon appeared, and then it struck me that the syllable Mont (pronounced Mon) occurred in all but the last of the substitutive names. It thus became easy for me to find from the name of Prince Albert the forgotten name Monaco. Colico practically imitates the syllabic sequence and rhythm of the forgotten name.
If we admit the conjecture that a mechanism similar to that pointed out in the forgetting of names may also play a part in the phenomena of speech-blunders, we are then led to a better founded judgment of cases of speech-blunders. The speech disturbance which manifests itself as a speech-blunder may in the first place be caused by the influence of another component of the same speech, that is through a fore-sound or an echo, or through another meaning within the sentence or context which differs from that which the speaker wishes to utter. In the second place, however, the disturbance could be brought about analogously to the process in the case Signorelli, through influences outside this word, sentence or context, from elements which we did not intend to express, and of whose incitement we became conscious only through the disturbance. In both modes of origin of the mistake in speech the common element lies in the simultaneity of the stimulus, while the differentiating elements lie in the arrangement within or without the same sentence or context.
The difference does not at first appear as wide as when it is taken into consideration in certain conclusions drawn from the symptomatology of speech-mistakes. It is clear, however, that only in the first case is there a prospect of drawing conclusions from the manifestations of speech-blunders concerning a mechanism which connects together sounds and words for the reciprocal influence of their articulation; that is, conclusions such as the philologist hopes to gain from the study of speech-blunders. In the case of disturbance through influence outside of the same sentence or context, it would before all be a question of becoming acquainted with the disturbing elements, and then the question would arise whether the mechanism of this disturbance cannot also suggest the probable laws of the formation of speech.
We cannot maintain that Meringer and Mayer have overlooked the possibility of speech disturbance through complicated psychic influences, that is, through elements outside of the same word or sentence or the same sequence of words. Indeed, they must have observed that the theory of the psychic variation of sounds applies, strictly speaking, only to the explanation of sound disturbances as well as to fore-sounds and after-sounds. Where the word disturbances cannot be reduced to sound disturbances, as, for example, in the substitutions and contaminations of words, they, too, have without hesitation sought the cause of the mistake in speech outside of the intended context, and proved this state of affairs by means of fitting examples.2 According to the authors own understanding it is some similarity between a certain word in the intended sentence and some other not intended, which allows the latter to assert itself in consciousness by causing a disfigurement, a composition, or a compromise formation (contamination).
Now, in my work on the Interpretation of Dreams I have shown the part played by the process of condensation in the origin of the so-called manifest contents of the dream from the latent thoughts of the dream. Any similarity of objects or of word-presentations between two elements of the unconscious material is taken as a cause for the formation of a third, which is a composite or compromise formation. This element represents both components in the dream content, and in view of this origin it is frequently endowed with numerous contradictory individual determinants. The formation of substitutions and contaminations in speech-mistakes is, therefore, the beginning of that work of condensation which we find taking a most active part in the construction of the dream.
In a small essay destined for the general reader,3 Meringer advanced a theory of very practical significance for certain cases of interchanging of words, especially for such cases where one word is substituted by another of opposite meaning. He says: We may still recall the manner in which the President of the Austrian House of Deputies opened the session some time ago: Honoured Sirs! I announce the presence of so and so many gentlemen, and therefore declare the session as closed! The general merriment first attracted his attention and he corrected his mistake. In the present case the probable explanation is that the President wished himself in a position to close this session, from which he had little good to expect, and the thought broke through at least partiallya frequent manifestationresulting in his use of closed in place of opened, that is, the opposite of the statement intended. Numerous observations have taught me, however, that we frequently interchange contrasting words; they are already associated in our speech consciousness; they lie very close together and are easily incorrectly evoked.
Still, not in all cases of contrast substitution is it so simple as in the example of the President as to appear plausible that the speech-mistake occurs merely as a contradiction which arises in the inner thought of the speaker opposing the sentence uttered. We have found the analogous mechanism in the analysis of the example aliquis; there the inner contradiction asserts itself in the form of forgetting a word instead of a substitution through its opposite. But in order to adjust the difference we may remark that the little word aliquis is incapable of a contrast similar to closing and opening, and that the word opening cannot be subject to forgetting on account of its being a common component of speech.
Having been shown by the last examples of Merinzer and Mayer that speech disturbance may be caused through the influence of fore-sounds, after-sounds, words from the same sentence that were intended for expression, as well as through the effect of words outside the sentence intended, the stimulus of which would otherwise not have been suspected, we shall next wish to discover whether we can definitely separate the two classes of mistakes in speech, and how we can distinguish the example of the one from a case of the other class.
But at this stage of the discussion we must also think of the assertions of Wundt, who deals with the manifestations of speech-mistakes in his recent work on the development of language.4 Psychic influences, according to Wundt, never lack in these as well as in other phenomena related to them. The uninhibited stream of sound and word associations stimulated by spoken sounds belongs here in the first place as a positive determinant. This is supported as a negative factor by the relaxation or suppression of the influences of the will which inhibit this stream, and by the active attention which is here a function of volition. Whether that play of association manifests itself in the fact that a coming sound is anticipated or a preceding sound reproduced, or whether a familiar practised sound becomes intercalated between others, or finally, whether it manifests itself in the fact that altogether different sounds associatively related to the spoken sounds act upon theseall these questions designate only differences in the direction, and at most in the play of the occurring associations but not in the general nature of the same. In some cases it may be also doubtful to which form a certain disturbance may be attributed, or whether it would not be more correct to refer such disturbance to a concurrence of many motives, following the principle of the complication of causes5 (cf. pp. 38081).
I consider these observations of Wundt as absolutely justified and very instructive. Perhaps we could emphasize with even greater firmness than Wundt that the positive factor favouring mistakes in speech (the uninhibited stream of associations, and its negative, the relaxation of the inhibiting attention) regularly attain synchronous action, so that both factors become only different determinants of the same process. With the relaxation, or, more unequivocally expressed, through this relaxation, of the uninhibiting attention the uninhibited stream of associations becomes active.
Among the examples of the mistakes in speech collected by me I can scarcely find one in which I would be obliged to attribute the speech disturbance simply and solely to what Wundt calls contact effect of sound. Almost invariably I discover besides this a disturbing influence of something outside of the intended speech. The disturbing element is either a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the speech-blunder, and can only be brought to consciousness through a searching analysis, or it is a more general psychic motive, which directs itself against the entire speech.
But I began: The apel This seems to be a contamination of ape and apple (compromise formation), or it may be also conceived as an anticipation of the prepared apple. The true state of affairs, however, was this: I began the quotation once before, and made no mistake the first time. I made the mistake only during the repetition, which was necessary because my daughter, having been distracted from another side, did not listen to me. This repetition with the added impatience to disburden myself of the sentence I must include in the motivation of the speech-blunder, which represented itself as a function of condensation.
(b) My daughter said, I wrote to Mrs. Schresinger. The womans name was Schlesinger. This speech-blunder may depend on the tendency to facilitate articulation. I must state, however, that this mistake was made by my daughter a few moments after I had said apel instead of ape. Mistakes in speech are in a great measure contagious; a similar peculiarity was noticed by Meringer and Mayer in the forgetting of names. I know of no reason for this psychic contagiousness.
(c) I sut up like a pocket-knife, said a patient in the beginning of treatment, instead of I shut up. This suggests a difficulty of articulation which may serve as an excuse for the interchanging of sounds. When her attention was called to the speech-blunder, she promptly replied, Yes, that happened because you said earnesht instead of earnest. As a matter of fact I received her with the remark, To-day we shall be in earnest (because it was the last hour before her discharge from treatment), and I jokingly changed the word into earnesht. In the course of the hour she repeatedly made mistakes in speech, and I finally observed that it was not only because she imitated me but because she had a special reason in her unconscious to linger at the word earnest (Ernst) as a name.6
(d) A woman, speaking about a game invented by her children and called by them the man in the box, said the manx in the boc. I could readily understand her mistake. It was while analysing her dream, in which her husband is depicted as very generous in money mattersjust the reverse of realitythat she made this speech-blunder. The day before she had asked for a new set of furs, which her husband denied her, claiming that he could not afford to spend so much money. She upbraided him for his stinginess, for putting away so much into the strongbox, and mentioned a friend whose husband has not nearly his income, and yet he presented his wife with a mink coat for her birthday. The mistake is now comprehensible. The word manx (manks) reduces itself to the minks which she longs for, and the box refers to her husbands stinginess.
(e) A similar mechanism is shown in the mistake of another patient whose memory deserted her in the midst of a long-forgotten childish reminiscence. Her memory failed to inform her on what part of the body the prying and lustful hand of another had touched her. Soon thereafter she visited one of her friends, with whom she discussed summer homes. Asked where her cottage in M. was located, she answered, Near the mountain loin instead of mountain lane.
The following day she said, I am really ashamed of myself for having given you yesterday such a stupid answer. Naturally you must have thought me a very uneducated person who always mistakes the meaning of foreign words. I wished to say en passant. We did not know at the time where she got the incorrectly used foreign words, but during the same session she reproduced a reminiscence as a continuation of the theme from the previous day, in which being caught in flagranti played the principal part. The mistake of the previous day had therefore anticipated the recollection, which at that time had not yet become conscious.
(g) In discussing her summer plans, a patient said, I shall remain most of the summer in Elberlon. She noted her mistake, and asked me to analyse it. The associations to Elberlon elicited: seashore on the Jersey coastsummer resortvacation travelling. This recalled travelling in Europe with her cousin, a topic which we had discussed the day before during the analysis of a dream. The dream dealt with her dislike for this cousin, and she admitted that it was mainly due to the fact that the latter was the favourite of the man whom they met together while travelling abroad. During the dream analysis she could not recall the name of the city in which they met this man, and I did not make any effort at the time to bring it to her consciousness, as we were engrossed in a totally different problem. When asked to focus her attention again on Elberlon and reproduce her associations, she said, It brings to mind Elberlawnlawnfieldand Elberfield. Elberfeld was the lost name of the city in Germany. Here the mistake served to bring to consciousness in a concealed manner a memory which was connected with a painful feeling.
(h) A woman said to me, If you wish to buy a carpet, go to Merchant (Kaufmann) in Matthew Street (Mathäusgasse). I repeated, Then at MatthewsI mean at Merchants It would seem that my repeating of one name in place of the other was simply the result of distraction. The womans remark really did distract me, as she turned my attention to something else much more vital to me than carpet. In Matthew Street stands the house in which my wife lived as a bride. The entrance to the house was in another street, and now I noticed that I had forgotten its name and could only recall it through a roundabout method. The name Matthew, which kept my attention, is thus a substitutive name for the forgotten name of the street. It is more suitable than the name Merchant, for Matthew is exclusively the name of a person, while Merchant is not. The forgotten street, too, bears the name of a person: Radetzky.
(i) A patient consulted me for the first time, and from her history it became apparent that the cause of her nervousness was largely an unhappy married life. Without any encouragement she went into details about her marital troubles. She had not lived with her husband for about six months, and she saw him last at the theatre, when she saw the play Officer 606. I called her attention to the mistake, and she immediately corrected herself, saying that she meant to say Officer 666 (the name of a recent popular play). I decided to find out the reason for the mistake, and as the patient came to me for analytic treatment, I discovered that the immediate cause of the rupture between herself and husband was the disease which is treated by 606.7
(k) Before calling on me a patient telephoned for an appointment, and also wished to be informed about my consultation fee. He was told that the first consultation was ten dollars; after the examination was over he again asked what he was to pay, and added: I dont like to owe money to any one, especially to doctors; I prefer to pay right away. Instead of pay he said play. His last voluntary remarks and his mistake put me on my guard, but after a few more uncalled-for remarks he set me at ease by taking money from his pocket. He counted four paper dollars and was very chagrined and surprised because he had no more money with him, and promised to send me a cheque for the balance. I was sure that his mistake betrayed him, that he was only playing with me, but there was nothing to be done. At the end of a few weeks I sent him a bill for the balance, and the letter was returned to me by the post-office authorities marked Not found.
(l) Miss X. spoke very warmly of Mr. Y., which was rather strange, as before this she had always expressed her indifference, not to say her contempt, for him. On being asked about this sudden change of heart she said: I really never had anything against him; he was always nice to me, but I never gave him the chance to cultivate my acquaintance. She said cuptivate. This neologism was a contamination of cultivate and captivate, and foretold the coming betrothal.
(m) An illustration of the mechanisms of contamination and condensation will be found in the following lapsus linguæ. Speaking of Miss Z., Miss W. depicted her as a very straitlaced person who was not given to levities, etc. Miss X. thereupon remarked: Yes, that is a very characteristic description, she always appealed to me as very straicet-brazed. Here the mistake resolved itself into straitlaced and brazen-faced, which corresponded to Miss W.s opinion of Miss Z.
An unpleasant trick of my unpleasant thoughts was revealed by the following example: To begin with, I may state that in my capacity as a physician I never consider my remuneration, but always keep in view the patients interest only: this goes without saying. I was visiting a patient who was convalescing from a serious illness. We had passed through hard days and nights. I was happy to find her improved, and I portrayed to her the pleasures of a sojourn in Abbazia, concluding with: If as I hope, you will not soon leave your bed. This obviously came from an unconscious selfish motive, to be able to continue treating this wealthy patient, a wish which is entirely foreign to my waking consciousness, and which I would reject with indignation.
(o) Another example (Dr. W. Stekel): My wife engaged a French governess for the afternoons, and later, coming to a satisfactory agreement, wished to retain her testimonials. The governess begged to be allowed to keep them, saying, Je cherche encore pour les après-midispardons, pour les avant-midis. She apparently intended to seek another place which would perhaps offer more profitable arrangementsan intention which she carried out.
(p) I was to give a lecture to a woman. Her husband, upon whose request this was done, stood behind the door listening. At the end of my sermonizing, which had made a visible impression, I said: Good-bye, sir! To the experienced person I thus betrayed the fact that the words were directed towards the husband; that I had spoken to oblige him.
(q) Dr. Stekel reports about himself that he had under treatment at the same time two patients from Triest, each of whom he always addressed incorrectly. Good morning, Mr. Peloni! he would say to Askoli, and to Peloni, Good morning, Mr. Askoli! He was at first inclined to attribute no deeper motive to this mistake, but to explain it through a number of similarities in both persons. However, he easily convinced himself that here the interchange of names bespoke a sort of boastthat is, he was acquainting each of his Italian patients with the fact that neither was the only resident of Triest who came to Vienna in search of his medical advice.
(r) Two women stopped in front of a drugstore, and one said to her companion, If you will wait a few moments Ill soon be back, but she said movements instead. She was on her way to buy some castoria for her child.
(s) Mr. L., who is fonder of being called on than of calling, spoke to me through the telephone from a nearby summer resort. He wanted to know when I would pay him a visit. I reminded him that it was his turn to visit me, and called his attention to the fact that, as he was the happy possessor of an automobile, it would be easier for him to call on me. (We were at different summer resorts, separated by about one half-hours railway trip.) He gladly promised to call, and asked: How about Labour Day (September 1st), will it be convenient for you? When I answered affirmatively, he said, Very well, then, put me down for Election Day (November). His mistake was quite plain. He likes to visit me, but it was inconvenient to travel so far. In November we would both be in the city. My analysis proved correct.
(t) A friend described to me a nervous patient, and wished to know whether I could benefit him. I remarked: I believe that in time I can remove all his symptoms by psychoanalysis, because it is a durable case, wishing to say curable!
(u) I repeatedly addressed my patient as Mrs. Smith, her married daughters name, when her real name is Mrs. James. My attention having been called to it, I soon discovered that I had another patient of the same name who refused to pay for the treatment. Mrs. Smith was also my patient and paid her bills promptly.
(v) A lapsus linguæ sometimes stands for a particular characteristic. A young woman, who is the domineering spirit in her home, said of her ailing husband that he had consulted the doctor about a wholesome diet for himself, and then added: The doctor said that diet has nothing to do with his ailments, and that he can eat and drink what I want.
(w) I cannot omit this excellent and instructive example, although, according to my authority, it is about twenty years old. A lady once expressed herself in societythe very words show that they were uttered with fervour and under the pressure of a great many secret emotions: Yes, a woman must be pretty if she is to please the men. A man is much better off. As long as he has five straight limbs, he needs no more!
This example affords us a good insight into the intimate mechanisms of a mistake in speech by means of condensation and contamination (cf. p. 72). It is quite obvious that we have here a fusion of two similar modes of expression:
As long as he has his four straight limbs.
As long as he has all his five senses.
Or the term straight may be the common element of the two intended expressions:
It may also be assumed that both modes of expressionviz., those of the five senses and those of the straight fivehave co-operated to introduce into the sentence about the straight limbs first a number and then the mysterious five instead of the simple four. But this fusion surely would not have succeeded if it had not expressed good sense in the form resulting from the mistake; if it had not expressed a cynical truth which, naturally, could not be uttered unconcealed, coming as it did from a woman.
Finally, we shall not hesitate to call attention to the fact that the womans saying, following its wording, could just as well be an excellent witticism as a jocose speech-blunder. It is simply a question whether she uttered these words with conscious or unconscious intention. The behaviour of the speaker in this case certainly speaks against the conscious intention, and thus excludes wit.
(x) Owing to similarity of material, I add here another case of speech-blunder, the interpretation of which requires less skill. A professor of anatomy strove to explain the nostril, which, as is known, is a very difficult anatomical structure. To his question whether his audience grasped his ideas he received an affirmative reply. The professor, known for his self-esteem, thereupon remarked: I can hardly believe this, for the number of people who understand the nostril, even in a city of millions like Vienna, can be counted on a fingerpardon me, I meant to say on the fingers of a hand.
Brantôme (15271614), Vies des Dames galantes, Discours second: Si ay-je cogneu une très belle et honneste dame de par le monde, qui, devisant avec un honneste gentilhomme de la cour des affaires de la guerre durant ces civiles, elle luy dit: Jay ouy dire que le roy a faiet rompre tous les c de ce pays là. Elle vouloit dire le ponts. Pensez que, venant de coucher davec son mary, ou songeant à son amant, elle avoit encor ce nom frais en la bouche; et le gentilhomme sen eschauffer en amours delle pour ce mot.
Une autre dame que jai cogneue, entretenant une autre grand dame plus quelle, et luy louant et exaltant ses beautez, elle luy dit après: Non, madame, ce que je vous en dis, ce nest point pour vous adultérer; voulant dire adulater, comme elle le rhabilla ainsi: pensez quelle songeoit à adultérer.
In the psychotherapeutic procedure which I employ in the solution and removal of neurotic symptoms, I am often confronted with the task of discovering from the accidental utterances and fancies of the patient the thought contents, which, though striving for concealment, nevertheless unintentionally betray themselves. In doing this the mistakes often perform the most valuable service, as I can show through most convincing and still most singular examples.
For example, patients speak of an aunt and later, without noting the mistake, call her my mother, or designate a husband as a brother. In this way they attract my attention to the fact that they have identified these persons with each other, that they have placed them in the same category, which for their emotional life signifies the recurrence of the same type. Or, a young man of twenty years presents himself during my office hours with these words: I am the father of N. N., whom you have treatedpardon me, I mean the brother; why, he is four years older than I. I understand through this mistake that he wishes to express that, like the brother, he, too, is ill through the fault of the father; like his brother, he wishes to be cured, but that the father is the one most in need of treatment. At other times an unusual arrangement of words, or a forced expression, is sufficient to disclose in the speech of the patient the participation of a repressed thought having a different motive.
Hence, in coarse as well as in finer speech disturbances, which may, nevertheless, be subsumed as speech-blunders, I find that it is not the contact effects of the sound, but the thoughts outside the intended speech, which determine the origin of the speech-blunder, and also suffice to explain the newly formed mistakes in speech. I do not doubt the laws whereby the sounds produce changes upon one another; but they alone do not appear to me sufficiently forcible to mar the correct execution of speech. In those cases which I have studied and investigated more closely they merely represent the preformed mechanism, which is conveniently utilized by a more remote psychic motive. The latter does not, however, form a part of the sphere of influence of these sound relations. In a large number of substitutions caused by mistakes in talking there is an entire absence of such phonetic laws. In this respect I am in full accord with Wundt, who likewise assumes that the conditions underlying speech-blunders are complex and go far beyond the contact effect of the sounds.
If I accept as certain these more remote psychic influences, following Wundts expression, there is still nothing to detain me from conceding also that in accelerated speech, with a certain amount of diverted attention the causes of speech-blunder may be easily limited to the definite law of Meringer and Mayer. However, in a number of examples gathered by these authors a more complicated solution is quite apparent.
In some forms of speech-blunders we may assume that the disturbing factor is the result of striking against obscene words and meanings. The purposive disfigurement and distortion of words and phrases, which is so popular with vulgar persons, aims at nothing else but the employing of a harmless motive as a reminder of the obscene, and this sport is so frequent that it would not be at all remarkable if it appeared unintentionally and contrary to the will.
I trust that the readers will not depreciate the value of these interpretations, for which there is no proof, and of these examples which I have myself collected and explained by means of analysis. But if secretly I still cherish the expectation that even the apparently simple cases of speech-blunder will be traced to a disturbance caused by a half-repressed idea outside of the intended context, I am tempted to it by a noteworthy observation of Meringer. This author asserts that it is remarkable that nobody wishes to admit having made a mistake in speaking. There are many intelligent and honest people who are offended if we tell them that they made a mistake in speaking. I would not risk making this assertion as general as does Meringer, using the term nobody. But the emotional trace which clings to the demonstration of the mistake, which manifestly belongs to the nature of shame, has its significance. It may be classed with the anger displayed at the inability to recall a forgotten name, and with the surprise at the tenaciousness of an apparently indifferent memory, and it invariably points to the participation of a motive in the formation of the disturbance.
The distorting of names amounts to an insult when done intentionally, and could have the same significance in a whole series of cases where it appears as unintentional speech-blunders. The person who, according to Mayers report, once said Freuder instead of Freud, because shortly before he pronounced the name Breuer (p. 38), and who at another time spoke of the Freuer-Breudian method (p. 28), was certainly not particularly enthusiastic over this method. Later, under the mistakes in writing, I shall report a case of name disfigurement which certainly admits of no other explanation.8
Or it may be just the reverse; the substituted name, or the adoption of the strange name, signifies an appreciation of the same. The identification which is brought about by the mistake is equivalent to a recognition which for the moment must remain in the background. An experience of this kind from his schooldays is related by Dr. Ferenczi:
While in my first year at college I was obliged to recite a poem before the whole class. It was the first experience of the kind in my life, but I was well prepared. As soon as I began my recitation I was dismayed at being disturbed by an outburst of laughter. The professor later explained to me this strange reception. I started by giving the title From the Distance, which was correct, but instead of giving the name of the real author, I mentionedmy own. The name of the poet is Alexander Petöfi. The identity of the first name with my own favoured the interchange of names, but the real reason was surely the fact that I identified myself at that time with the celebrated poet-hero. Even consciously I entertained for him a love and respect which verged on adoration. The whole ambition-complex hides itself under this faulty action.
A similar identification was reported to me concerning a young physician who timidly and reverently introduced himself to the celebrated Virchow with the following words: I am Dr. Virchow. The surprised professor turned to him and asked, Is your name also Virchow? I do not know how the ambitious young man justified his speech-blunder, whether he thought of the charming excuse that he imagined himself so insignificant next to this big man that his own name slipped from him, or whether he had the courage to admit that he hoped that he, too, would some day be as great a man as Virchow, and that the professor should therefore not treat him in too disparaging a manner. One or both of these thoughts may have put this young man in an embarrassing position during the introduction.
Owing to very personal motives I must leave it undecided whether a similar interpretation may also apply in the case to be cited. At the International Congress in Amsterdam, in 1907, my theories of hysteria were the subject of a lively discussion. One of my most violent opponents, in his diatribe against me, repeatedly made mistakes in speech in such a manner that he put himself in my place and spoke in my name. He said, for example, Breuer and I, as is well known, have demonstrated, etc., when he wished to say Breuer and Freud. The name of this opponent does not show the slightest sound similarity to my own. From this example, as well as from other cases of interchanging names in speech-blunders, we are reminded of the fact that the speech-blunder can fully forego the facility afforded to it through similar sounds, and can achieve its purpose if only supported in content by concealed relations.
In other and more significant cases it is a self-criticism, an internal contradiction against ones own utterance, which causes the speech-blunder, and even forces a contrasting substitution for the one intended. We then observe with surprise how the wording of an assertion removes the purpose of the same, and how the error in speech lays bare the inner dishonesty. Here the lapsus linguæ becomes a mimicking form of expression, often, indeed, for the expression of what one does not wish to say. It is thus a means of self-betrayal.
Brill relates: I had recently been consulted by a woman who showed many paranoid trends, and as she had no relatives who could co-operate with me, I urged her to enter a State hospital as a voluntary patient. She was quite willing to do so, but on the following day she told me that her friends with whom she leased an apartment objected to her going to a hospital, as it would interfere with their plans, and so on. I lost patience and said: There is no use listening to your friends who know nothing about your mental condition; you are quite incompetent to take care of your own affairs. I meant to say competent. Here the lapsus linguæ expressed my true opinion.
Favoured by chance the speech material often gives origin to examples of speech-blunders which serve to bring about an overwhelming revelation or a full comic effect, as shown by the following examples reported by Brill:
A wealthy but not very generous host invited his friends for an evening dance. Everything went well until about 11.30 p.m., when there was an intermission, presumably for supper. To the great disappointment of most of the guests there was no supper; instead, they were regaled with thin sandwiches and lemonade. As it was close to Election day the conversation centred on the different candidates; and as the discussion grew warmer, one of the guests, an ardent admirer of the Progressive Party candidate, remarked to the host: You may say what you please about Teddy, but there is one thinghe can always be relied upon; he always gives you a square meal, wishing to say square deal. The assembled guests burst into a roar of laughter, to the great embarrassment of the speaker and the host, who fully understood each other.
While writing a prescription for a woman who was especially weighed down by the financial burden of the treatment, I was interested to hear her say suddenly: Please do not give me big bills, because I cannot swallow them. Of course she meant to say pills.
While walking one night with Dr. Frink we accidentally met a colleague, Dr. P., whom I had not seen for years, and of whose private life I knew nothing. We were naturally very pleased to meet again, and on my invitation he accompanied us to a café, where we spent about two hours in pleasant conversation. To my question as to whether he was married he gave a negative answer, and added, Why should a man like me marry?
On leaving the café, he suddenly turned to me and said: I should like to know what you would do in a case like this: I know a nurse who was named as co-respondent in a divorce case. The wife sued the husband for divorce and named her as co-respondent, and he got the divorce. I interrupted him, saying, You mean she got the divorce. He immediately corrected himself, saying, Yes, she got the divorce, and continued to tell how the excitement of the trial had affected this nurse to such an extent that she became nervous and took to drink. He wanted me to advise him how to treat her.
As soon as I had corrected his mistake I asked him to explain it, but, as is usually the case, he was surprised at my question. He wanted to know whether a person had no right to make mistakes in talking. I explained to him that there is a reason for every mistake, and that if he had not told me that he was unmarried, I would say that he was the hero of the divorce case in question, and that the mistake showed that he wished he had obtained the divorce instead of his wife, so as not to be obliged to pay alimony and to be permitted to marry again in New York State.
He stoutly denied my interpretation, but his emotional agitation, followed by loud laughter, only strengthened my suspicions. To my appeal that he should tell the truth for science sake, he said, Unless you wish me to lie you must believe that I was never married, and hence your psychoanalytic interpretation is all wrong. He, however, added that it was dangerous to be with a person who paid attention to such little things. Then he suddenly remembered that he had another appointment and left us.
Both Dr. Frink and I were convinced that my interpretation of his lapsus linguæ was correct, and I decided to corroborate or disprove it by further investigation. The next day I found a neighbour and old friend of Dr. P., who confirmed my interpretation in every particular. The divorce was granted to Dr. P.s wife a few weeks before, and a nurse was named as co-respondent. A few weeks later I met Dr. P., and he told me that he was thoroughly convinced of the Freudian mechanisms.
A father who was devoid of all patriotic feeling and desirous of educating his children to be just as free from this superfluous sentiment, reproached his sons for participating in a patriotic demonstration, and rejected their reference to a similar behaviour of their uncle with these words: You are not obliged to imitate him; why, he is an idiot. The astonished features of the children at their fathers unusual tone aroused him to the fact that he had made a mistake, and he remarked apologetically, Of course, I wished to say patriot.
When such a speech-blunder occurs in a serious squabble and reverses the intended meaning of one of the disputants, at once it puts him at a disadvantage with his adversarya disadvantage which the latter seldom fails to utilize.
This clearly shows that although people are unwilling to accept the theory of my conception and are not inclined to forego the convenience that is connected with the tolerance of a faulty action, they nevertheless interpret speech-blunders and other faulty acts in a manner similar to the one presented in this book. The merriment and derision which are sure to be evoked at the decisive moment through such linguistic mistakes speak conclusively against the generally accepted convention that such a speech-blunder is a lapsus linguæ and psychologically of no importance. It was no less a man than the German Chancellor, Prince Bülow, who endeavoured to save the situation through such a protest when the wording of his defence of his Emperor (November, 1907) turned into the opposite through a speech-blunder.
Concerning the present, the new epoch of Emperor Wilhelm II, I can only repeat what I said a year ago, that it would be unfair and unjust to speak of a coterie of responsible advisers around our Emperor (loud calls, Irresponsible!)to speak of irresponsible advisers. Pardon the lapsus linguæ (hilarity).
A nice example of speech-blunder, which aims not so much at the betrayal of the speaker as at the enlightenment of the listener outside the scene, is found in Wallenstein (Piccolomini, Act I, Scene 5), and shows us that the poet who here uses this means is well versed in the mechanism and intent of speech-blunders. In the preceding scene Max Piccolomini was passionately in favour of the ducal party, and was enthusiastic over the blessings of the peace which became known to him in the course of a journey while accompanying Wallensteins daughter to the encampment. He leaves his father and the Court ambassador, Questenberg, in great consternation. The scene proceeds as follows:
QUESTENBERG. Woe unto us! Are matters thus? Friend, should we allow him to go there with this false opinion, and not recall him at once in order to open his eyes instantly.
OCTAVIO (rousing himself from profound meditation). He has already opened mine, and I see more than pleases me.
QUESTENBERG. What is it, friend?
OCTAVIO. A curse on that journey!
QUESTENBERG. Why? What is it?
OCTAVIO. Come! I must immediately follow the unlucky trail, must see with my own eyescome (Wishes to lead him away.)
QUESTENBERG. What is the matter? Where?
OCTAVIO (urging). To her!
OCTAVIO (corrects himself). To the duke! Let us go, etc.
The slight speech-blunder to her in place of to him is meant to betray to us the fact that the father has seen through his sons motive for espousing the other cause, while the courtier complains that he speaks to him altogether in riddles.
A poetic speech-blunder, very delicately motivated and technically remarkably well utilized, which, like the one pointed out by Freud in Wallenstein (Zur Psychopathologie des Alltagslebens, 2nd Edition, p. 48), not only shows that poets knew the mechanism and sense of this error, but also presupposes an understanding of it on the part of the hearer, can be found in Shakespeares Merchant of Venice (Act III, Scene 2). By the will of her father, Portia was bound to select a husband through a lottery. She escaped all her distasteful suitors by lucky chance. When she finally found in Bassanio the suitor after her own heart, she had cause to fear lest he, too, should draw the unlucky lottery. In the scene she would like to tell him that even if he chose the wrong casket, he might, nevertheless, be sure of her love. But she is hampered by her vow. In this mental conflict the poet puts these words in her mouth, which were directed to the welcome suitor:
There is something tells me (but it is not love),
Just the very thing which she would like to hint to him gently, because really she should keep it from him, namely, that even before the choice she is wholly histhat she loves him, the poet, with admirable psychologic sensitiveness, allows to come to the surface in the speech-blunder. It is through this artifice that he manages to allay the intolerable uncertainty of the lover as well as the like tension of the hearer concerning the outcome of the choice.
Our great novelist, George Meredith, in his masterpiece, The Egoist, shows an even finer understanding of the mechanism. The plot of the novel is, shortly, as follows: Sir Willoughby Patterne, an aristocrat greatly admired by his circle, becomes engaged to a Miss Constantia Durham. She discovers in him an intense egoism, which he skilfully conceals from the world, and to escape the marriage she elopes with a Captain Oxford. Some years later Patterne becomes engaged to a Miss Clara Middleton, and most of the book is taken up with a detailed description of the conflict that arises in her mind on also discovering his egoism. External circumstances and her conception of honour hold her to her pledge, while he becomes more and more distasteful in her eyes. She partly confided in his cousin and secretary, Vernon Whitford, the man whom she ultimately marries, but from a mixture of motives he stands aloof.
In the soliloquy Clara speaks as follows: If some noble gentleman could see me as I am and not disdain to aid me! Oh! to be caught out of this prison of thorns and brambles. I cannot tear my own way out. I am a coward. A beckoning of a finger would change me, I believe. I could fly bleeding and through hootings to a comrade . Constantia met a soldier. Perhaps she prayed and her prayer was answered. She did ill. But, oh, how I love her for it! His name was Harry Oxford . She did not waver, she cut the links, she signed herself over. Oh, brave girl, what do you think of me? But I have no Harry Whitford; I am alone . The sudden consciousness that she had put another name for Oxford struck her a buffet, drowning her in crimson.
The fact that both mens names end in ford evidently renders the confounding of them more easy, and would by many be regarded as an adequate cause for this, but the real underlying motive for it is plainly indicated by the author. In another passage the same lapsus occurs, and is followed by the hesitation and change of subject that one is familiar with in psychoanalysis when a half-conscious complex is touched. Sir Willoughby patronizingly says of Whitford: False alarm. The resolution to do anything unaccustomed is quite beyond poor old Vernon. Clara replies: But if Mr. OxfordWhitford your swans, coming sailing up the lake; how beautiful they look when they are indignant! I was going to ask you, surely men witnessing a marked admiration for some one else will naturally be discouraged? Sir Willoughby stiffened with sudden enlightenment.
In still another passage Clara, by another lapsus, betrays her secret wish that she was on a more intimate footing with Vernon Whitford. Speaking to a boy friend, she says, Tell Mr. Vernontell Mr. Whitford.
The conception of speech-blunders here defended can be readily verified in the smallest details. I have been able to demonstrate repeatedly that the most insignificant and most natural cases of speech-blunders have their good sense, and admit of the same interpretation as the more striking examples. A patient who, contrary to my wishes but with firm personal motives, decided upon a short trip to Budapest, justified herself by saying that she was going for only three days, but she blundered and said for only three weeks. She betrayed her secret feeling that, to spite me, she preferred spending three weeks to three days in that society which I considered unfit for her.
One evening, wishing to excuse myself for not having called for my wife at the theatre, I said: I was at the theatre at ten minutes after ten. I was corrected: You meant to say before ten oclock. Naturally I wanted to say before ten. After ten would certainly be no excuse. I had been told that the theatre programme read, Finished before ten oclock. When I arrived at the theatre I found the foyer dark and the theatre empty. Evidently the performance was over earlier and my wife did not wait for me. When I looked at the clock it still wanted five minutes to ten. I determined to make my case more favourable at home, and say that it was ten minutes to ten. Unfortunately, the speech-blunder spoiled the intent and laid bare my dishonesty, in which I acknowledged more than there really was to confess.
This leads us to those speech disturbances which can no longer be described as speech-blunders, for they do not injure the individual word, but affect the rhythm and execution of the entire speech, as, for example, the stammering and stuttering of embarrassment. But here, as in the former cases, it is the inner conflict that is betrayed to us through the disturbance in speech. I really do not believe that any one will make mistakes in talking in an audience with His Majesty, in a serious love declaration, or in defending ones name and honour before a jury; in short, people make no mistakes where they are all there, as the saying goes. Even in criticizing an authors style we are allowed and accustomed to follow the principle of explanation, which we cannot miss in the origin of a single speech-blunder. A clear and unequivocal manner of writing shows us that here the author is in harmony with himself, but where we find a forced and involved expression, aiming at more than one target, as appropriately expressed, we can thereby recognize the participation of an unfinished and complicated thought, or we can hear through it the stifled voice of the authors self-criticism.11
Note 6. It turned out that she was under the influence of unconscious thoughts concerning pregnancy and prevention of conception. With the words shut up like a pocket knife, which she uttered consciously as a complaint, she meant to describe the position of the child in the womb. The word earnest in my remark recalled to her the name (S. Ernst) of the well-known Vienna business firm in Kärthner Strasse, which used to advertise the sale of articles for the prevention of conception. [back]
Note 7. Similar mistakes dealing with Officer 666 were reported to me by other psychoanalysts. [back]
Note 8. It may be observed that aristocrats in particular very frequently distort the names of the physicians they consult, from which we may conclude that inwardly they slight them, in spite of the politeness with which they are wont to greet them. I shall cite here some excellent observations concerning the forgetting of names from the works of Professor E. Jones, of Toronto: Papers on Psycho-analysis, chap. iii. p. 49: Few people can avoid feeling a twinge of resentment when they find that their name has been forgotten, particularly if it is by some one with whom they had hoped or expected it would be remembered. They instinctively realize that if they had made a greater impression on the persons mind he would certainly have remembered them again, for the name is an integral part of the personality. Similarly, few things are more flattering to most people than to find themselves addressed by name by a great personage where they could hardly have anticipated it. Napoleon, like most leaders of men, was a master of this art. In the midst of the disastrous campaign of France in 1814, he gave an amazing proof of his memory in this direction. When in a town near Craonne, he recollected that he had met the mayor, De Bussy, over twenty years ago in the La Fère Regiment. The delighted De Bussy at once threw himself into his service with extraordinary zeal. Conversely, there is no surer way of affronting someone than by pretending to forget his name; the insinuation is thus conveyed that the person is so unimportant in our eyes that we cannot be bothered to remember his name. This device is often exploited in literature. In Turgenevs Smoke (p. 255) the following passage occurs: So you still find Baden entertaining, MsieurLitvinov. Ratmirov always uttered Litvinovs surname with hesitation, every time, as though he had forgotten it, and could not at once recall it. In this way, as well as by the lofty flourish of his hat in saluting him, he meant to insult his pride. The same author, in his Fathers and Children (p. 107), writes: The Governor invited Kirsanov and Bazarov to his ball, and within a few minutes invited them a second time, regarding them as brothers, and calling them Kisarov. Here the forgetting that he had spoken to them, the mistake in the names, and the inability to distinguish between the two young men, constitute a culmination of disparagement. Falsification of a name has the same signification as forgetting it; it is only a step towards complete amnesia. [back]
Note 9. Zentralb. f. Psychoanalyse, ii., Jahrg. I. Cf. also Brills Psychanalysis: Its Theories and Practical Application, p. 202. Saunders, Philadelphia and London. [back]