According to an article in Psychology Today, most of us make between seven and 22 slips of the tongue every day. That’s one or two errors for every 1,000 words we speak.
Verbal banana peels come in a variety of forms. Sometimes our brains work faster than our mouths, so we say “plaster man” instead of “master plan,” or mix metaphors and utter, “That’s the way the cookie bounces.” Sigmund Freud saw a dark side of our verbal miscues, theorizing that slips of the tongue reveal unconscious thoughts or wishes. The fellow who means to say, “No one’s perfect,” but accidentally says, “No one else is perfect,” may secretly hold too high a view of himself. Meeting her husband’s former girlfriend, a woman mutters, “Nice to beat you.”
Years ago I attended a meeting where the main speaker was Ed Meese, who served as Attorney General of the United States during the Reagan administration. I happened to sit next to Mr. Meese at dinner, and the man who introduced him told how, when he first met the Attorney General, he planned to say, “Mr. Meese, you are my hero.” But he was nervous, so he walked up, stuck out his hand and said, “Mr. Meese, I am your hero.” Meese responded, “Well, that might be. But who are you?”
“No One Can Tame the Tongue” (James 3:8)
Athletes do a lot of extemporaneous interviews, yielding gems like this one from boxing trainer Lou Duva: “He’s a guy who gets up at six o’clock in the morning regardless of what time it is.” And this truism from Yankee catcher Yogi Berra: “You wouldn’t have won if we’d beaten you.”
When politicians in the national spotlight misspeak, TV cameras catch every awkward phrase. By saying, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” John F. Kennedy tried to tell the Germans, “I am a Berliner,” but locally his words were understood to mean, “I am a jelly doughnut.” Dan Quayle probably didn’t mean to say, “This President is going to lead us out of this recovery,” and George W. Bush gave us this head-scratcher: “They misunderestimated me.”
A minister meant to tell his congregation to pray for patients rehabilitating in the rest home, but instead he said, “Pray for those who are sick in the restroom.” I know a preacher who meant to say “Samson” in his sermon but somehow “Tarzan” came out instead. Another fellow was baptizing a person when his mind went blank. Instead of saying, “You are now being baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” he reverted to a wedding ceremony and blurted out, “I now pronounce you . . . baptized!” I heard about a church bulletin that announced, “Due to the growing size of our nursery we will be splitting the infants and toddlers.”
A minister named William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930) said things like “a nosey little cook” when he meant “cozy little nook,” and “kingquering congs” instead of “conquering kings.” Because of his propensity for mixing up words, Spooner’s name has become attached to a category of humorous tongue-slips called spoonerisms, such as, “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” and “Is the bean dizzy (dean busy)?” Think of Brother Spooner the next time you mean to say, “Time heals all wounds,” and hear yourself saying, “Time wounds all heels.”
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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