Freudian Slip

PsychologyPersonality Psychology

When his mom asked if he wanted bread butter or cereal for breakfast, Ram replied, saying he wanted "bed butter." A biology teacher says "orgasm" instead of an organism while teaching her class. "I will have the chilled grease," said Treya, instead of saying grilled cheese. None of us are unfamiliar with similar tongue slips, also known as Freudian slips.

What is the Meaning of Freudian Slip?

The Freudian slip was named after Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis theory. The idea is based on his work with a young man who misquoted a Latin phrase. The young man had dropped a word while quoting a phrase, and Freud found it to reveal the man's unconscious worries. Upon exploration, Freud could establish connections with the young man's unconscious mind, which led him to explore the idea of slips further.

In his book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud analyzed trivial, nonsensical errors or slips people make. Freud referred to these slips using a German Term- Fehlleistungen, which translates to "faulty functions" or "faulty actions." His editor, however, favored the term parapraxes, meaning minor errors.

In psychoanalysis, Freudian slip refers to errors in speech, memory, or physical action that occur because of the interferences of the unconscious wishes, thoughts, or beliefs. According to Freud, unacceptable thoughts or beliefs are withheld from conscious awareness, and these slips reveal what is hidden in the unconscious. While classical examples of Freudian slips include a slip of the tongue, the psychoanalytical theory also includes the exploration of mis-readings, mis-hearings, mis-typings, and mislaying objects.

Why do Freudian Slips Occur?

According to Freud, the unconscious or the suppressed thoughts were the cause of these slips. The slips have been classified into three types based on their occurrence: forgetfulness linked to repression, desire, and spoken distortions.

  • Forgetfulness linked to repression involves a slip of memory, where when one experiences something associated with shame, fear, or pain, one might respond to it by pushing away the memories of the particular event. In the future, these individuals could forget similar events even if the context has changed. For example, when he was a child, Ravi was bitten by a dog named Tom. During high school, he could never remember the name of his batch-mate, which also happened to be Tom. A psychoanalytical explanation of Ravi forgetting Tom would be that his mind avoids the memory of the name of his batch-mate Tom as it could trigger the traumatic memories of being bitten.
  • Forgetfulness linked to desire is another type of memory slip that can happen when one does or does not want to do something. For instance, Preeti misplaced her lengthy to-do list, which included tasks she did not particularly like thrice. Psychoanalysis interpretation would likely explain that she continues to lose the list as she wishes to delay the tasks.
  • Spoken distortions are the kind of slips most people think of when they hear Freudian slips. These slip-ups occur as the mind tries to find the compromise between conscious and unconscious thought. For instance, Anand has a co-worker - Rajeev Sharma. Anand often mixes up the last name and replaces it with Verma, Shukla, or Patel. This might represent some unresolved unconscious thoughts according to the psychoanalytic perspective.

There is some scientific support for Freud's ideas. For instance, in a study conducted in 1987, participants who were asked not to think of a white bear tended to think of it very frequently. Based on these findings, psychologist Daniel Weaner developed the "theory of ironic processes" to explain why suppressing certain thoughts can be difficult. He proposed that while certain parts of the brain suppress the hidden thoughts, other parts of the mind occasionally check in to ensure that one is not thinking of them– ironically bringing back the thoughts that were supposed to be hidden from us.


Other schools of thought within psychology argue that verbal mistakes may just be caused due to the way our brains process language. We usually edit our words in our heads before we speak, looking for errors or inappropriate language use. This process happens constantly, and Freudian slips may be moments where the process failed and a mistake slipped out before the brain could rectify it. On average, one makes about seven to twenty-two verbal slip-ups in a day based on how much the person talks. Freud highlighted the hidden meanings in these errors due to the unconscious mind, but these slips could be an inevitable part of life.

Present View

Cognitive psychology says linguistic slips can be caused due to sequencing conflict while producing grammar. From this perspective, slips are a by-product of cognitive under-specifications such as inattention, vague sense of data, or insufficient knowledge. This view is true for other behavioral slips as well.

Another explanation for slips has been the existence of some locally appropriate response patterns strongly primed due to prior usage, recent activation, or emotional changes. Within this perspective, some sentences and actions are susceptible to slips as errors can be caused due to strong habit substitution, where one tends to replace an unusual expression with a more common one.


According to the psychoanalytic perspective, slips are considered a way to access the unconscious mind. However, it is largely agreed that since our actions are so complicated, we are bound to have some errors. This has been compared to the human-computer interface, where errors that are counterparts to the slips can be observed quite often.

Updated on 13-Oct-2022 11:19:47