Tongue-tied

My usual trail run was a little slow the other day, because it’s hard to run when you’re laughing.

I had been tooling along my regular 6.5-mile route, wending up and down hills, when I encountered a long string of high-school runners heading the other direction. The local cross-country team, gearing up for the new season!

Seeing these youngsters always gladdens my heart. Their faces are etched with effort and they’re breathing hard. None wears ear buds; they’re concentrating on their running, taking the training seriously. They’re learning the meaning of hard effort and perseverance. They’re building muscles and stamina and — most of all — character. It’s immensely heartening to encounter them.

In my excitement, I called out encouragement to each young runner as we passed each other, the standard phrases: Good work! Nice job! Way to be!

Then I kind of forgot where I was with all the talking, because I was also running, and apparently can’t do both successfully at the same time. “Nice jerk!” I called out brightly to the next runner, a young man who looked at me strangely.

My mortification passed less quickly than he did, a lot less quickly: 50 yards farther down the trail, I was laughing too hard to run. No sooner had I recovered and resumed my pace when I recalled a similar miscue, this one by a canoeist friend who was out on rough water with a large group of paddlers. A pricey, empty canoe had somehow gotten loose of the dock, and was drifting perilously near the lake’s rocky shore.

Michael Riley/ photo.net

Michael Riley/ photo.net

My friend — a shy woman who was only trying to help — sounded a loud warning to the canoe’s owner: “Hey!” she yelled. “It’s going to shit the whore!”

After a second of bewildered silence, a wave of uproarious laughter threatened to swamp my friend, who turned redder than sunset and sank quietly between the gunwales.

Recalling this story stopped me in my tracks again; this time I had to walk the length of a football field before I could stifle my laughter sufficiently to resume running. Then I thought of the story of a television newscaster who reported on-air that a well-known politician had suffered a “near hatal fart attack.” This occasioned my third walking break, after which I was eventually able to compose myself sufficiently to finish my run as, well … a run.

spoonerA lot goes wrong with our shrinking brains as we grow older, but spoonerisms — the experience of transposing letters or small parts of words when excited or embarrassed– can afflict anyone.

They’re named after William Archibald Spooner, an absent-minded Oxford don who supposedly had a habit of mangling words in just this manner. (“You have hissed all my mystery lectures.”)

It’s not exactly clear what is happening in our brains when we make such gaffes.  But a study published by German researchers in a 2007 issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex (next to Cosmo in the checkout aisle) employed a laboratory methodology known to increase the incidence of spoonerisms. The technique primes subjects with inductor word pairs (ball doze, bean deck, bash door) and then presents them with a target pair (say, darn bore) which is then more likely to be rendered as a full or partial spoonerism (barn door, darn door).

“Speech errors in this task are thought to occur because two competing speech plans become activated and the subject is unable to inhibit the erroneous plan prior to vocalization,” wrote the study authors. Their use of sophisticated algorithms and computer technology to measure brain activity as the slips occurred seemed to confirm the hypothesis.

It’s some comfort to we mature folks that the study’s subjects were all young and neurologically healthy; spoonerisms are not a function of age, which cannot be said of many linguistic deficits.  I once made my living with words,  and even at 57 — still a few years from full-on dotage — the erosion of grey matter is apparent. Occasionally, I can’t find the right word and – more disturbing – sometimes randomly substitute completely unrelated words for the one I banana.

Ah, well. The most reliably rewarding part of being human may be the comedic value.  Our lives sometimes seem a succession of pratfalls and miscues; slips of the tongue are hardly the worst of it.

Let us laugh freely then, and encourage each other to carry on as best we can, inelegant yet unembarrassed:   Wood gerk, my friends.  Bay to we.

 

 

This post first appeared two years ago, an interval during which dotage has edged closer.

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22 comments

  1. I loved this!

    Like

    1. Glad to hear it! Thank you.

      Like

  2. slukwago · · Reply

    Like most people I love to laugh out loud and this did it! As did all you clever people who commented! Thank you!

    Like

    1. You’re welcome, Rafiki. So glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

      Like

  3. Hi: I’m the friend with whom Pat: Willowsticks88 shared the link. And she was right on both counts:
    I needed a good laugh and I got a good laugh! Thanks so much!
    It also brought to mind the character in “Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 comedy-of-manners The Rivals.” Her name, of course, is Mrs. Malaprop! I did the “google thing,” and will end with one of her malapropisms (using a similar sounding word in place of the correct one). Now that, is my abbot of bate!

    “Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!”
    [apprehend, vernacular, arrangement, epithets]

    PS: Pat would tell you I have an odd way of recollecting things . . .

    Like

    1. You’re welcome, and thanks for commenting and adding notably to the ways we can go wrong when we open our mouths! We of a certain age fondly remember Archie Bunker’s flare for malapropisms in “All in the Family.” 🙂

      Like

      1. I am of that certain age!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pat: willow88switches · · Reply

    It’s been a second day, and I still can’t stop laughing at this post; I’m trying to stifle the giggles; I keep literally erupting into belly splitting howls – which is stunning my dogs, and getting them terribly excited, since I’m here, alone with them …. in the middle of nowhere, so they are worried and perplexed …. but this post, well – this is just what every.morning.needs. Beats coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marvelous! It delights me to know you got so much good out of this post. Thanks for saying so!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pat: willow88switches · · Reply

        actually, I’m going to email a friend with the link to this post ~ it’s that good and I think she could use a huge chuckle, and she will absolutely delight in someone’s effective use of spoonerisms!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Lovely. I hope she enjoys it, too!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. astrea333 · · Reply

    Spoonerisms can produce some of life’s funniest moments. Terry Pratchett made hilarious use of them in a book called Guards Guards. Thank you for sharing (got a giggke out of “fart attack”).

    Like

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. Spoonerisms often feel hugely funny to me; I guess it’s the earnest intent wed to the mangled expression. I’m glad you enjoy them, too.

      Like

  6. This doesn’t apply to me at all. I prefer to just mix my metaphors. That way I can have my cake and my just desserts, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That made me laugh out loud — and want something sweet. Thanks. 🙂

      Like

  7. NoAZLady · · Reply

    What a delightful way to start my morning, Cate! Morning giggles. Thanks for pee roasting!

    Like

    1. In public, even. 🙂 So glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

  8. wood gerk indeed. Thanks for the laugh! love the canoe story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Steph. I laugh every time I think of that story; it never gets old. My poor, mild-mannered friend….

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wood gerk, Cate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bank you, Tob!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wou’re yelcome.

        Liked by 1 person

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