It’s on the tip of my tongue

Ever been in a situation in which your are struggling to remember an exact word, while the word seems so obvious and know you can just so easily put your finger on it, and pull it to your consciousness? But for some strange reason, you cant seem to capture its essence, as hard as you try and as far as you reach?  Of course you have… In life, we call this the tip of the tongue phenomena.  Ever heard of it? It happens everywhere and occurs incredibly often, and can honestly be quite frustrating when does.  The feeling accompanying this marvel causes you to stress your brain to a point that causes a unique mental state, where the person is attempting to consciously use retrieval cues to try to access the word they are just so ready to spit out, located just a touch away.  When this happens, people begin to try to remember features about the word, and connections they have formed with the word, they think to themselves:  “What was the font of the word when i saw it? Big? Small?” and scramble to figure out,  “What were the first few letters? Ele? Ela?”  In addition to this, you might think about when you heard the word last, or what was going on at that time, and you may dance around in your thoughts, trying to locate the word’s presence using mental structures, remembering schema associated with this mystery word, and bringing up cues.


These thoughts are guided to help your mind connect with the word, and helping, hoping you eventually find that knowledge you were so pressured to posses.  The interesting part is, when you are going through these processes in your mind, your thoughts can potentially lead you down a path of skewed thinking, where it attempts to create the word using these mental cues, and present words associated with the criteria of the cues. This means, whenever something is on the tip of your tongue, you will go through whatever processes (retrieval, accessibility, recency) you can muster, to quickly interpret and generate the word.  So, you know you should already know the word, you put yourself under enormous pressure both socially and introspectively to grasp this word.  When this happens, it is so easy to rush ourselves down one of the hundreds of potential paths paths, which sometimes causes us to slip, and retrieve the wrong cues, leading to the wrong word.  We will start telling ourselves we saw the word earlier, in a different context, or we try to remember things related to the word, or other words like it.

When struggling to find the word, our mind uses cues to help us snatch it from our peripheral, and we will being to asses these cues, and puzzling together the mind’s entire understanding of the word.  Unfortunately for us, there is always a possibility we could be misattributing, or incorrectly identifying specifics of memories, meaning we are susceptible to a warp in perception as we go through the constant sift of all incoming possible words.  During this sift, research suggests ( that the tip of the tongue phenomena will actually cause a certain feeling, or a state that often causes people to be likely to have a biased perception, and they will radically think to bring the word to the consciousness, but its easily possible to remember words that are closely resembling the impossible word, or have certain connections with it.  In the research, The characteristics that people were most likely mislabeling words with were accessibility, font size and shade, and frequency in the language.  This means the easier a word was to access in the mind, the easier it is to read, and the more frequently one is associated with the word,  the more likely it is to be wrongly chosen.  The state of mind associated with the tip of the tongue feeling sometimes leads people to making begin making inferences about the word in rash ways, leading to a much higher occurrence of error in the recall of the word.  The feeling of something being on the tip of your tongue is seen creating a bias in the way people think, causing them to make mistakes during retrieval and think the word is more easily accessible.  This means the thought goes something like this:  I definitely know this word its so easy, and I should be right here, why can I not think of it, I know this work completely!  This causes people to make accessibility errors in their words.

frustrated builder

While this is a simple topic, it very closely addresses our discussions of retrieval , the memory system (both working and long term), implicit and explicit memories.  It’s something so complicated was going on inside your head every time you struggle to remember a word that should just be so obvious.  Just remember, next time you can’t remember the word you were looking for, when you finally spit it out… don’t always count on it.  Unless you know you’re right I guess…

3 thoughts on “It’s on the tip of my tongue

  1. jfreud

    I found this post to be very interesting and relatable. It would also explain the tendency to remember what we were trying to remember later, once we have stopped actively trying to retrieve the information.

  2. aestero

    I thought that this article was very interesting. I feel like I experience the tip of the tongue phenomenon more frequently than I should, which I probably don’t, but it feels that way. Having a better understanding of this phenomenon was really helpful for me. When this phenomenon happens to me, I always seem to never get what I’m trying to say out. Knowing why that happens is really interesting and intriguing, cause half the time, when I can’t get what I’m trying to say out, I get so frustrated to the point that I have to end up searching online for what I’m trying to say. For example, if I’m looking for the name of a certain movie, I’d end up having to look it up online because I’d be so bothered by the tip of the tongue phenomenon and not being able to say what I wanted to say. Overall I thought this article was a really great read and a very intriguing topic.

  3. cbudd33

    This is so relatable to my life….it happens to me on a weekly basis! The worst is when I am in a “somewhat” intelligent conversation, and I am trying to sound smart/educated/prove a point…and I just cannot get the word out. It’s the worst!
    A comment that you made which I found rather interesting was the one where you said the “tip of the tongue” phenomenon can cause a certain feeling state that often causes people to create a biased perception, and it is easy to remember words that closely resemble the impossible word, or have certain connections with it. This is so true. I feel like when I am attempting to retrieve a word, I can remember every word BUT the one I need to find!
    Great post full of science and explanations!

Comments are closed.