To avoid slips of tongue, just sleak spowly

Slips-of-tongue are speech errors in which words are pronounced incorrectly or uttered unintentionally – Roopa Banerjee

Uttering accidental words when you intend to say something else is commonly referred to as a slip of the tongue. Slips-of-tongue are speech errors in which words are pronounced incorrectly or uttered unintentionally.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the founder of psychoanalysis, believed that such slip-ups were truths embedded in the subconscious mind finding release through normal conversation. He posited that what people said but didn’t mean to say are repressed thoughts that weren’t meant to be disclosed. This resulted in many slips of the tongue being called Freudian slips or parapraxes (faulty action).

But Freud’s hypothesis explains only a minority of speech errors and is somewhat out-dated. Latest research by cognitive scientist Gary Dell, professor of linguistics and psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana, contends that slips of tongue are revealing of an individual’s capacity to use language and its components.

There are three types of slips of tongue: sound, morpheme and word errors. Sound errors occur when word sounds get swapped. Thus, instead of saying flower pot, one may say power flot. This is also known as a spoonerism. A morpheme error is when morphemes (smallest meaningful units in language) swap with neighbouring words. For example, instead of saying ‘He has already packed two trunks,’ one may end up saying, ‘He has already packs two trunked.’ In word errors actual words get rearranged. For example, ‘I must let the cat out of the house’ may become ‘I must let the house out of the cat.’

There are also some additional ways of categorising these errors. Anticipation error is when an alphabet in a later word is replaced by another. This would cause ‘reading list’ to be said as ‘leading list.’ Anticipation errors are the most common phonological slips.

A perseveration error is when a later word is mixed up with an earlier. For example, one might say ‘box blackses’ instead of ‘black boxes.’ Deletion error is when some linguistic material is left out. Like ‘unanimity of opinion’ becoming ‘unamity of opinion.’ Exchange errors are double shifts where two linguistic units change places. Here, ‘getting your nose remodeled’ becomes ‘getting your model renosed,’ and a metathesis error is when two sounds are switched, each taking the place of the other, where ‘pus pocket’ will become ‘pos pucket.’

Omission errors are one of the most common errors of speech — an entire word is replaced while speaking fast or under stress. Many politicians are prone to this speech gaffe. Some famous political slips of tongue have gone down in history as hilarious faux pas. In 1988, US President Ronald Reagan, while trying to quote American statesman John Adams who had said, “Facts are stubborn things,” instead said, “Facts are stupid things.”

Interestingly, we are more likely to create an existing word (leading), rather than a made-up word (wabbit) when we make slip of tongue errors. Also, we are less likely to invent a word with an odd letter sequence such as ‘dlorm’ rather than ‘dorm’. We end up substituting a word that is related in meaning. Thus, the substitution of a word such as ‘table’ for the word ‘up’ or the word ‘coat’ for the word ‘fire’ is unlikely.

To avoid, or at least minimise, slips of tongue, slow down while talking or making a speech. Also, practise before making a public address.


Too many slips of tongue here! Tell us what you think they wanted to say:

1. Smuck in the tid 2. Odd hack 3. Easy enoughly 4. Turn to tend out 5. The Grand Canyon went to my sister.
6. You have too many irons in the smoke.


1. Stick in the mud
2. Ad hoc
3. Easily enough
4. Tend to turn out
5. My sister went to the Grand Canyon
6. You have too many irons in the fire.

Also read: Speech therapy: How parents can help children with learning difficulties

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