I’m writing an email and I’ve come to a place where my brain is telling me there is a simple word for a certain concept which I can use, but my brain is not revealing to me what that word is.
What word (if any) am I thinking of?
It means something like “in effect for now but subject to review.” I’m telling someone that some information I put on a form should be thought of as being effective for now, but possibly to be overridden very soon should another person with decision-making power review the information and determine that I made some mistakes.
Like as in, suppose I don’t know whether a student passed his Math class or not, and I’m registering the student for classes next semester, and the student says he passed but I need to see the official record, which is unavailable to me, and for whatever reason I believe the registration form must be filled out now–then I register him for his classes on the assumption that he passed math, but I tell him the registration is “in effect for now but subject to review once the knowledgable people come back to the office next week,” except I just use a single simple word to communicate that idea.
This seems like a fairly frequent phenomenon–I or my conversation partner will temporarily forget a fairly common simple word. We’ll go through several minutes or longer knowing there is a word that means such-and-such, a word we’ve read heard and used many times before–but completely unable to actually recall what the word is.
Indeed, it seems like it happens fairly often that I and those around me will forget the same word at the same time. This I’m willing to bet is an observation due to confirmation bias–I don’t remember all those times I asked “damn what word am I thinking of?” and someone immediately supplied it. But still, it certainly seems the case that I (and those I know) often temporarily forget words like this.
My question is, do we know anything at all about how often this happens, how variable its occurance is between individuals, whether and how it can be predicted how often it will happen, what we know about what triggers the phenomenon, etc.
It’s called “Tip of the Tongue” syndrome in popular culture, and it has been studied.
I can’t remember many exact details, nor can I remember all of the studies, but it shows up in the popular news media online pretty often.
Some things I recall as being interesting:
It hits people with larger vocabularies worse. The thought there is that it has to do with interference in recall. If you know twelve words that are similar to “provisionally” in visual form, word sound, or meaning (could be synonym OR antonym, or even something personal that isn’t an objective relation - interestingly enough) you’re going to have a harder time fetching that term from memory on demand than if you only had it by itself.
It doesn’t actually get worse with age, but people feel like it does. There are several ideas for this one, none really proven. The major thought is that people are thinking about their minds and memory when aging, looking closely for signs of failing ability, so they notice it more. Another possibility is that kids and young people are expected to be more unfamiliar with language, so it’s not a big thing when they don’t know/can’t recall a term, but adults and older people are expected to recall things that they are presumably familiar with, so there’s greater stigma (socially and self-inflicted) for mis-prompting or failing totally to recall something.
Losing words or thoughts doesn’t mean that your brain is failing, but it can be a sign that you’re overtasking. That’s why often you move on to another subject (or go to bed) and suddenly the missing term or item pops out at you then - the switch in gears lets your brain process the request in the background without the stress that may have contributed to the lock-up in the first place. It’s also related to the “you asked me too fast” idea of knowing something but being unable to retrieve it coherently when it’s sprung on you suddenly.
Me and El Hubbo have the same problem. Now, we try to think beforehand and rephrase any questions like that so we don’t lead the other in any way - it seems to have more success if the questionee doesn’t have any idea of the path the questioner is already down, and so can more readily answer the question. If one of us asks the question in a way that reveals our brain-freeze, then it just infects the other person too and they can’t come up with the answer either.