Good sounding word, isn’t it? Wordnesia.
Some of you might even know what it means, but for those of you who don’t, please go say it out loud one hundred times, write it down the same amount, then come back when it goes all weird on you and your brain can’t decide if it’s spelled right anymore.
Because that what it is. It’s a term for when words stop behaving, and even though you know you know how to spell something, it all just suddenly seems wrong.
I know I’ve had wordnesia in the past. I’ve even managed to have simple words like ‘the’ go awry on me, which is just ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as being thrown out of a really strong writing session because now I need to go and check ‘golf’ has, in fact, always been spelled that way and not ‘gawlf’ or something.
I’ve talked before about how much I like science and how important researching things is to me, so this phenomenon is as interesting to me as anything I ever get around to writing.
I know a bit about related oddities our brains can do, such as the trick you sometimes see online that asks you to stare at something for a minute, then look at a blank wall, with intent to make you see colors, or a picture, or make the world start spinning.
All of those tricks rely on something science knows happens in our eyes. For example, with the color tricks, you are tasked to stare at a certain color, then when you look at the wall, you will see the color on the opposite side of the spectrum from the original image. This is because your cones in your eyes used to detect color get tired and overstimulated.
Staring at a red block for a solid minute, triggering the parts of your eye that perceive that color, wears them out. The signal going from your eye to the relevant part of your brain fires over and over, getting slower and less responsive due to overuse. Then, when you look at a blank surface, the cones not in use to detect ‘red’ are much fresher and stronger and give a far stronger feedback pulse to the brain than your tired out ‘red’ receptors, so the color balance is thrown off.
You don’t ‘see’ enough of the red tones in the blank wall you are looking at, so it is washed out and you end up seeing a different color (cyan, in this case) from the stronger, fresher receptors.
Try it with this color wheel – stare at the white circle in the center for a minute, then at the clean box on the right. Notice anything odd?
But for all science understands why colors can sometimes go all weird on you, I don’t seem to have found an answer to why words sometimes behave just as strangely.
My personal experience would indicate ‘wordnesia’ comes from overuse also, as I seem to only get the problem when I am very tired and/or have used the same expression multiple times in the last hour or so.
I also remember having it happen to me a lot more when I was younger, and I think that can be explained by writing by hand more often and the fact spell-checkers were nowhere near as good as today. Back then, even on my computer written projects, the errors would show up until I ran the spellcheck, instead of correcting instantly as they tend to do today.
I wonder then if the problem comes from thinking about a word too much, or maybe too little as I often rattle along the keys with speed to get my thoughts out, and don’t let my brain intervene with correct spellings for some words. (There are, after all, a lot of words automatically spelled strangely in the English language. I’m looking at you ‘Colonel’, ‘knead’ and ‘receipt’!)
Certainly, we let auto-pilot handle many of our functions on a day to day basis, which leads to all those other fun internet posts that remind you that you are breathing, and that you can always see your own nose but your eyes ignore it, and all sorts of other things that suddenly make us much more aware of our senses than normal.
So maybe it’s over-use tiring out the part of your brain processing language. Maybe it’s auto-pilot skimming over things your more attentive brain would pick up, or maybe it’s something completely different to do with a disconnect between how we process words we read on a page, versus how we process the language we intend to write and wires get crossed…
Whatever the outcome may eventually be discovered to be, I find the functionality of our human brain fascinating, even when it isn’t quite doing what I want.
I love thinking about this sort of thing, and my interest makes me want to share what I know, what I ponder, how I perceive what we are as a species, with other folks. So even when my mind is going nuts, I guess I still want to write, to try and express this weird little thing we call life.
I wonder how many of you have experienced wordnesia? And why you think it happens? If nothing else, though, I hope you have learned a new word from this post, and found it mildly interesting!