I can be having a perfectly normal conversation with a friend when suddenly the next word I want to say will just vanish. Gone. When this happens, I flail around for a moment (hoping my friend won’t see the look of panic on my face) and then usually come up with another word or two that will more or less substitute for the one I’ve lost.
Or, I might be writing a letter, email, text, or blog post (or a report, back when I was working). Things are going great. I know what I want to say and I’m putting together a string of words that convey my intent and that are clear and coherent. Everything is flowing along. Until it stops.
Damn, what is that word I’m looking for?
Often what I have lost isn’t an especially completed word. It could be something like “inclusive,” or “detail,” or “standards.” It’s often a word that I’ve used hundreds or even thousands of times with no problem. A word I’ve been familiar with since grade school. A word that just seconds earlier I could have effortlessly found floating among my brain cells. But, now, at the moment I need the word, it’s not coming to me.
If this happens when I’m writing, I’ll just type a big red X in its spot so I can come back to it. Usually, a few minutes later when I revisit what I’ve written, I can easily retrieve (OK, I momentarily lost that one) the elusive word, replace the X, and move on. No one is the wiser. Unfortunately, when I’m speaking, my transitory vocabulary lapses aren’t as easy to cover up.
I’m not too concerned that this affliction indicates an early-onset of dementia or other age-related brain deterioration. Although it has gotten a bit worse over the years, I’ve had this problem for as long as I can remember. I’m sure it’s one reason I’ve always preferred writing to speaking. It’s much more comfortable to deal with a big red X than it is to experience the embarrassment of becoming suddenly mute as my brain goes searching for the word I’ve lost, or, failing that, to find a reasonable substitute.
Possibly related, but not quite the same, is my tendency to get “right” and “left” mixed up (best not to ask me for directions) or, sometimes, “yellow” and “pink.” I am fully aware of what each word means, I just say one when I mean the other. Or, I routinely forget the name for something. When I was working I had a brain stall every time I tried to find the words “case study.” It’s a term used often in my profession but one that, for some reason, I had trouble with.
Now that I have retired and no longer need to make public presentations or utter the words “case study,” I have found that this personal peccadillo has become less of an issue for me. Fortunately, many of my friends are retired too and are less of a hurry to get anywhere. They are perfectly content to pause the conversation while I go rummaging around my cranial attic for a word that has escaped my grasp.
I, in turn, smile and nod when they go on to tell me the same story they told me last week.