The Pain of the Verbal Gaffe

I once mixed up Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Alfred Kinsey (author of the Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior). Another time I confused Sinclair Lewis (Nobel Prize-winning author of Babbit and Elmer Gantry) and Upton Sinclair (muckraking author of The Jungle). My husband will attest to the fact that I routinely mix up Bob Seger and Van Morrison, and have been known to confuse Rod Stewart and Kim Carnes (just on “Bette Davis Eyes,” though). And I won’t even try to list how many times I’ve totally messed up song lyrics in the presence of other people (a tidbit: there isn’t actually any swearing in American Pie. Who knew?).

Just Monday night I realized that at book club last week, I referred to Jim Jeffords (former US Senator from Vermont who left the Republican party in 2001, changing the balance of power in the Senate, a piece of news I actually knew and cared about at the time) when I meant Warren Jeffs (President of the FLDS, a polygamist religious sect).

If someone else made that kind of mistake, I’d assume that they’d misspoken. I’d correct them but only if it seemed necessary for clarification of their point, and I certainly wouldn’t think any less of them. But when I make that kind of mistake, it sends me into a tailspin of embarrassment even worse than when I find that I’ve typed the wrong “its” in a blog post.

When I mentioned my Jeffords/Jeffs mistake to my husband tonight, I actually had to sit down because I became lightheaded. (Yes, making verbal gaffes makes me swoon like a 19th-Century heroine. Perhaps I should loosen my corset.) I wished there were a way I could contact each person who was at book club that night (even the guy who seemed to be discussing an entirely different book than the rest of us) and own up to my error. I don’t understand why no one corrected me at the time. The thought occurred to me that I might not want to go to that book club again.

Ah, how much easier life would be if I were perfect!

Do you experience physical discomfort when you make an honest mistake in casual speech? If so, what do you do to alleviate the pain?

3 Replies to “The Pain of the Verbal Gaffe”

  1. When I’m with people who make this type of mistake, I usually understand what the point, and know who they meant, and keep going. And ten minutes later probably couldn’t even pull up what the mistake was. I imagine your book club has completely forgotten as well.

    Let it be, let it be…


  2. Um, yes. I NEVER do this kind of thing either. Especially not a few times a day.

    I don’t feel embarrassed by them after a lifetime of them. I chock it up to a gallon of information poured into a shot glass sized brain. But that’s just me

    I suggest reaching the tipping point of gaffes. Eventually, you won’t swoon anymore


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