Words Escape Me


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.

Author: Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com

My blog is about travel, relationships, photography, and whatever else pops into my head (even, sometimes, issues surrounding retirement and aging).

16 thoughts on “Words Escape Me”

  1. For a number of years, I would have been unable to complete entire sentences were my friends and family not able to do so for me. And, for a while there, I would refer to my brain as a, “…286, that has to grind and whir until it is able to bring the correct file forward, unlike those of you who have those new-fangled Pentium chips.” Finally had to stop using that one because so many younger folks have no idea what a 286 was/is.

    1. Maybe we can now say “Sorry, I just upgraded my brain to the new iOS8 system.” I recently “upgraded” my iPhone and iPad and now they seem to be running MUCH slower. Sometimes new isn’t necessarily better.

      It sounds like you no longer loose entire sentences. Perhaps there is hope for my lose of words?

  2. You just described my world! When I was in my 30s and the stay at home mom of two young girls, I used to go to my church women’s group meetings. It was all retired ladies and me. One day I was flailing around trying to remember a world when one of the ladies said she had the same problem…every since she had her stroke! That made 35 year old me feel SO GOOD! I found you by way of the Coffee Kat blog, BTW.

    1. That’s funny! I’m sure she was just trying to make you feel better, but… yikes! I hesitated writing that post because I felt that I was divulging a terrible secret. Now I’m glad I did because I don’t feel so singularly afflicted.

      Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting. I hope to see you back soon!

  3. My husband and I share a brain so that does help. But, when left on my own, l find words escaping my brain that should stay right where they are. For example, the other evening I asked my daughter and her husband if they wanted watermelon on their pie. We all just looked at each other in stunned silence. Where did that word come from? Finally my son-in-law declined watermelon but said ice cream sounded good. God love him!

    You made me laugh a lot. Maybe we share a brain too!


    1. My husband and I share a brain too but it often hops from one cranium to the other at the most inopportune moments. I love that you asked your daughter and husband if they wanted watermelon on their pie. You are much more creative than me… momentarily forgetting the words “ice cream,” I probably would have asked if they wanted some cold, creamy stuff on their pie.

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