Forgotten words

Words are getting sneakier. Halfway through a sentence, the operative word will see me coming and slink back into the crowd. Slipping away like a master pickpocket in a crowded London train station, the word disappears among the rest of the flotsam in my brain. Cleverly, it does not hide among other, similar words. I stand with my mouth open in mid-sentence waiting for the possibilities to reveal themselves. But nothing comes. There are no synonyms, no alternatives, just a blank, empty space waiting to be filled with the singular word that has escaped.

If I have provided enough context in the sentence I was in the middle of, a helpful listener might take over for me and pluck the absent word out of his own gray matter. A quick, grateful nod and I’m on my way again. If, however, the listener is not a mind-reader, we will face each other helplessly while I get increasingly agitated at my inability to capture the word I need. An impatient listener will try to maintain an indifferent demeanor only to drop the pretense and radiate aggravation, thereby increasing my desperation.

One expects to forget names, or where they put their keys, but where do these words go? There does not seem to be any commonality among them, although the lousy memory I have had all my life precludes my stating that as absolute fact. So let us assume that I am right, that the words are all strays, unrelated to any grander lexicon. What makes a seemingly innocuous word turn feral, afraid to join its brethren even when it is desperately desired? And is there a way to coax it back, or is it better to let it go, abandon the thought that required it and move on?

I worry about what this means. As far as I can recall, neither of my parents ever have trouble producing the words they need to flesh out their thoughts. It’s true, my father will sometimes ask to go home when he is sitting in his house, but he’s quite articulate. And my mother will repeat something she told me earlier, but with admirable lucidity. My word loss strikes me as a more serious problem. I like to talk, and tell stories. If my speech comes to resemble Swiss cheese, dotted with holes where important words should be, who will listen to me?

It would be a kindness, a mitzvah, if those of you who are also of a certain age would assure me that I am not alone. That you, too, misplace words the way other people misplace car keys. And if it takes you a moment to find the words, I promise to wait patiently.

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18 responses to “Forgotten words

  1. Hi Hi, I am an avid reader of your posts (I have, in the past, alluded that you are my new Nora). I, too, have experienced the loss of a word while speaking to another about an event. Sometimes, while I am searching for the word, I’ll state that “I’m almost ready to stop talking to people as I seem to forget the exact word I need, right in the middle of a sentence”. I add, ” this might be an asset, as I usually talk too much anyway”. However, in your case, since you write so beautifully, I would hate to see you stop. Thank you for all you do.

  2. Judy, I have this all the time.

    I used to blame it on the fact that I live and work in a highly multi-lingual environment.

    Then, I started getting scared that I might have early Alzheimer’s.

    However, my neurologist mother said that it was due neither to my multi-lingual lifestyle nor to early Alzheimer’s. Rather, nearly all people start getting this around age 50.

    And you and I, my dear, have seen 50 pass us by already

  3. Me too, me too, me too! What was I saying????

  4. Hah! I have an excuse! Someone stole my brain, remember? And for you, my dear, this is simply an issue of your mind moving faster than your fingers or your mouth can move. So relax and slow down a bit, that’s all! Drawl a little!

  5. I also… umm, I have… yeah. Me… also.

  6. Me too . . . desperately grasping for the word “validation” the other day, could only come up with “confirmation.” After a couple of days of not being able to come up with it, I checked thesaurus.com, and there it was.

  7. This happens to me all the time, and has for as long as I can remember. It also happens to my son who is articulate, bright, and 25. I, noticed that it seems to happen more often when I’m stressed, and/or lacking sleep.

    As for the age thing, I prefer to think that forgetting things has more to do with the quantiy of information we’ve accumulated, rather than diminishing cognitive abilities.

    At any rate, you still write beautifully if that’s a comfort to you!

    • It is so comforting to know I’m not alone. It may take me a few more years before I’m willing to let the idea that I’m wise supplant my fear of word loss, but is a good way to look at it.

  8. P.S. Just read your four year-old blog post on use of the F word. I, too, am free-wheeling when it come to using that word. Likewise with my son. Perhaps, as your mother pointed out to you, we would be better served using our brain to find more descriptive (albeit not so personally satisfying) words to express ourselves? Is there a correlation between swearing and forgetting words? I wish Shakespeare were still around to ask.

  9. So happy to see you back!
    I have tried various solutions for this word loss malady: sudden coughing seizure, helpless laughter, the insertion of any foreign sounding word. I am waiting for the invention of a microchip implanted in the hand, so that when I cough discreetly into my palm , the device will furnish me with the appropriate word.

  10. Do the missing words tend to be nouns? They disappear from my mind with a much higher frequency than do other parts of speech, unless the nouns are unusual. It’s easier for me to remember “If I had myself a flying giraffe” than “waves of sorrow, pools of joy.”

  11. You’re not alone, Judy, not alone at all!

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