The Freudian Slip: When Your Own Brain Hates You

Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 15.47.59We have all been in situations where, without warning and to our utter disgust, our brains have turned against us and made us look foolish, or worse, inconsiderate and/or stupid. Sometimes it may be the use of just one word, a word you never intended to say but use in place of another. You know, when you think of one word but say a mother… (who doesn’t love a Freudian joke?! Yeah, I’ll stop now). Other times, it may be a whole phrase. Occasionally, it may be a physical movement or drawing. This article looks at why the Freudian slip can land us in hot water as well as have everyone around you in stitches and the importance of knowing that, no matter how bad it is, no harm was really meant.

What Is A Freudian Slip?

This type of slip up is an error in speech, memory and, occasionally, physical movement. It is commonly linked to your subconscious mind stepping up and offering its repressed thoughts and feelings. Your brain tries to make quick fire connections based on experience situation and keywords or triggers. It can be when you say one word but mean another, or find yourself doodling images without thinking just to find you’ve drawn something you realise to be playing on your mind. It is a phenomenon that was explored by the one and only Sigmund Freud in his 1901 book; “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”. Freud wished to look at why people make small, seemingly trivial errors in everyday life with particular focus on the subconscious mind as a trigger for these mistakes. He never named this after himself, instead calling it “psychoanalysis”. The term Freudian Slip was coined years later but is commonly used around the world.

Funny V’s Awkward

Some Freudian Slips can be very funny. I went for lunch in a small, pleasant and respectable pub with my family. We were sat by the table with the sauces and cutlery for those who wanted to get up and help themselves. One woman came in from the garden and shouted loudly out the door,

“I’m just going to get the condoms!

Naturally everyone looked up and sniggered as she realised her mistake and then spluttered, “condiments, I meant condiments!!“. Yeah, sure you Screen Shot 2013-06-03 at 15.59.47did…! The only person that sort of slip harms, is the victims pride but it is harmless and everyone else finds your embarrassment highly amusing.

Another such example may be when you ask a friend, “can I borrow your penis?”. Realise the cock up *mind the pun* and then shout “pen!! Can I borrow your pen!?”. I think we all know what’s going on in that persons subconscious!

I was once at work when I was meant to ask a fine looking young man if he wanted a glass and ice with his drink, but what came out was, “do you want arse with that?”. Clearly my brain went, he’s handsome, has a nice arse, glass sounds like arse, here’s what I have to offer to this conversation. Thanks brain, I owe you one… Luckily I blushed my way through it and everyone laughed.

But not all Freudian Slips are sexual. With sexual slips, you may blush with embarrassment and get a bit of flack from your friends. With other mistakes, you can look worse.

My mum went to work one day to find that one of her friends fathers had died. He had been sailing when the sail hit him and he was killed. What was mums response when she heard?

“That’s taken the wind right out my sails”.

Whoops! Still, an easy mistake to make. They had been talking about boats, shocks, surprises, and, it is after all, a commonly used expression. A prime example of your subconscious putting together pieces of information, picking out a related and common phrase based on keywords and situations, and hey presto, a Freudian slip. Nothing that would cause offence in any other situation. However, this wasn’t any other situation and the room went quiet as mum took a second to clock onto what had just happened and her friends stifled smiles at her awkwardness. Everyone knew she didn’t mean it though and so no harm was done but it still crops up as a topic of conversation now and again.

I’ve done it myself. During my first year at university, one of my house mates tried hanging themselves. Afterwards, when talking about it with friends, one asked, “what are they usually like day to day”?. I replied with, “Quiet, doesn’t do much, usually just hangs around the flat”… I could see from their faces I had said something but it took a second for me to get it. The best things to do in these situations is apologise and laugh it off. The whole problem with the Freudian slip is that it is accidental, an action without intent or malice.


So there are some examples of Freudian slips, both funny and awkward and an explanation as to what they are and why they happen.  The important thing to remember, no matter if it’s you saying it or simply witnessing it, is that it is not done intentionally. It is just your mind messing up and making ill-informed connections. If it’s a light hearted stupid mistake, laugh it off, it’s funny. If it’s a little more awkward, apologise, laugh it off and move on.

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