Do You Ever Do That Thing Where You’re Looking at a Word or Hearing a Word And All of a Sudden it Ceases to Have Meaning?*

Posted on 14/11/2011 by


You’re staring at this bizarre combination of syllables and thinking, What is that even? How is that supposed to convey anything? Why are those sounds or letters in that order? That’s not even language. Which, I suppose, is fair. After all language is only words or letters that convey meaning. In that moment they don’t and it therefore ceases to be. (Although from that perspective any language that you can’t understand isn’t language — oh, now I’m seeing where that colonial ‘the natives have no language’ thing comes from.)

Zippy the Pinhead comic. Three panels of a guy repeating the word 'recidivism' over and over again while his companion looks at him quizzically. In the last panel he finally asks, 'Would you mind repeating that?'

I recognise that this is far from an unusual phenomenon, but it weirds me out. The brain is a pretty funny place. And I am occasionally brought to the awareness that I have a lot less control of it than I like to think.

I mean, some part of my subconscious has apparently been running around writing the plots of my books and not telling me. Which is cool. But it does an awful of lot of peculiar stuff too. Like it turns out I add unnecessary ‘e’s to the end of words when writing in the dark. And when I’m not paying attention while typing I have a tendency to inappropriately end words with ‘able’ instead of ‘ably’  or ‘ing’ instead of ‘ed’.

Me: Cause I’m demented.
Paul S: This is not news to anyone.
Me: Thanks for that. Very reassuring.

I suppose it’s good that at least I’m aware I’m doing it.

Although, at times I think there’s such a think as being too aware. Like I have a weakness for doubling letters because there’s a small cheering section in my brain that gets in scraps with the part responsible for spelling the English language which likes to chant, When in doubt, double it! which is pretty ridiculous advice. So I tell it to shut up. And then lose the ability to spell ‘tomorrow’.

And I have a mild inability to spell the word ‘weird’ (which is annoying because I like using it). And really, the problem isn’t that I can’t spell it. The problem is that at this point I really do know how to spell it. But I also know that I instinctively do it wrong. So whenever I write it I have a crisis of faith: Did I do it right this time? Did I correct before the word hit the page? Am I overcompensating? Should I swap the ‘e’ and the ‘i’ — just to see what it looks like? FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, USE ANOTHER WORD, KANDACE.**

Anyway. I’m just going to go back to writing about strange and peculiar and unusual and bizarre things that aren’t at all weirdable or anything.


* It’s called semantic satiation or semantic saturation — a psychological phenomenon/disease in which repetition causes a word or phrase to temporarily lose meaning for the listener, who can only process the speech as repeated meaningless sounds.

** My brain isn’t particularly patient with me. Which I think is a bit unfair, given that it’s the one being ridiculous about it all.


Posted in: Kandace, Research