-(3434)-(809)-(7483)-(1457) -(14632) -(1363)-(913)-(1438)-(451)-(1065)-(47672) -(912)-(14524) -(4268)-(17799)-(1338)-(13644)-(11121)-(55)-(373)-(8427)-(374)-(1642)-(23702)-(16968)-(1700)-(12668)-(24684)-(15423)-(506)-(11852) -(3308)-(5571)-(1312)-(7869)-(5454)-(1369)-(2801)-(97182)-(8706)-(18388)-(3217)-(10668) -(299)-(6455)-(42831)-(4793)-(5050)-(2929)-(1568)-(3942)-(17015)-(26596)-(22929)-(12095)-(9961)-(8441)-(4623)-(12629)-(1492) -(1748)




(6) A reader of the Pester Lloyd, Frau Kata Levy of Budapest, recently came across a similar unintended display of candour in a telegram from Vienna which appeared in the paper on October 11, 1918:

In view of the complete mutual confidence which has prevailed between ourselves and our German allies throughout the war, it may be taken for certain that the two Powers would reach a unanimous decision in all circumstances. It is unnecessary to state specifically that active and interrupted co-operation between the allied diplomatists is taking place at the present stage as well.


Only a few weeks later it was possible to express ones opinion more frankly about this mutual confidence, and there was no longer any need to take refuge in a slip of the pen (or misprint).

(7) An American living in Europe who had left his wife on bad terms felt that he could now effect a reconciliation with her, and asked her to come across the Atlantic and join him on a certain date. It would be fine, he wrote, if you could come on the Mauretania as I did. He did not however dare to send the sheet of paper which had this sentence on it. He preferred to write it out again. For he did not want her to notice how he had had to correct the name of the ship. He had first written Lusitania.


This slip of the pen needs no explanation: its interpretation is perfectly plain. But a happy chance enables a further point to be added. Before the war his wife paid her first visit to Europe after the death of her only sister. If I am not mistaken, the Mauretania is the surviving sister-ship of the Lusitania, which was sunk in the war.6


(8) A doctor had examined a child and was making out a prescription for it, which included the word alcohol. While he was occupied in doing so the childs mother pestered him with stupid and unnecessary questions. He privately determined not to let this make him angry, and actually succeeded in keeping his temper, but made a slip of the pen in the course of the interruptions. Instead of alcohol the word achol¹ could be read on the prescription.


(9) The following example, which Ernest Jones reports about A. A. Brill, has a similar subject-matter, and I therefore insert it here. Although by custom a total abstainer, he allowed himself to be persuaded by a friend to drink a little wine. Next morning an acute headache gave him cause to regret having yielded in this way. He had occasion to write the name of a patient called Ethel; instead he wrote Ethyl.² It was no doubt of some relevance that the lady in question used to drink more than was good for her.


¹ Approximately: No choler.

² I.e. ethyl alcohol.7


(10) Since a slip of the pen on the part of a doctor who is writing a prescription possesses a significance which goes far beyond the practical importance of ordinary parapraxes, I take the opportunity of reporting in full the only analysis published up to now of such a slip made by a doctor:

From Dr. Eduard Hitschmann (1913b): A colleague tells me that several times over a period of years he had made an error in prescribing a certain drug for women patients of an advanced age. On two occasions he prescribed ten times the correct dose; only later did he suddenly realize this and was obliged, in the greatest anxiety in case he had harmed his patient and put himself in a very unpleasant position, to take the most hurried steps to recall the prescription. This singular symptomatic act deserves to be clarified by a more precise description of the individual instances and by an analysis.


First instance: In treating a poor woman bordering on extreme old age who was suffering from spastic constipation the doctor prescribed belladonna suppositories ten times too strong. He left the out-patients department, and his error suddenly sprang to his mind about an hour later while he was at home reading the paper and having lunch; he was overcome by anxiety, rushed first to the out-patients department to obtain the patients address and hastened from there to her home, which was a long way off. He was delighted to find that the old woman had not yet had the prescription made up, and he returned home much relieved. The excuse that he gave himself on this occasion was the not unjustified one that the talkative head of the out-patients department had looked over his shoulder while he was writing the prescription and had distracted him.


Second instance: The doctor was obliged to tear himself away from a consultation with a flirtatious and provocatively attractive patient in order to pay a professional visit to an elderly spinster. He took a taxi, not having much time to spare for the visit; for he was due to keep a secret rendezvous with a girl he was in love with, at a certain time, near her house. Here, too, belladonna was indicated because of troubles analogous to those in the first instance. Once again he made the mistake of prescribing a quantity ten times too strong. The patient raised a question that was of some interest but irrelevant to the matter in hand; the doctor, however, showed impatience, though his words denied it, and left the patient, so that he appeared at the rendezvous in very good time. Some twelve hours later, at about seven oclock in the morning, the doctor woke up; the thought of his slip of the pen and a feeling of anxiety came almost simultaneously to his consciousness, and he sent a hasty message to the patient in the hope that the medicine had not yet been collected from the chemists, and asked for the prescription to be sent back in order to be revised. On receiving it however he found that the prescription had already been made up; with a somewhat stoical resignation and an optimism born of experience he went to the chemist, where the dispenser reassured him by explaining that he had naturally (or perhaps by mistake too?) made up the drug in a smaller dose.


Third instance: The doctor wanted to prescribe a mixture of Tinct. belladonnae and Tinct. Opii in a harmless dose for his old aunt, his mothers sister. The prescription was immediately taken to the chemist by the maid. A very short time later it occurred to the doctor that instead of "tincture" he had written "extract", and immediately afterwards the chemist telephoned to question him about the error. The doctor gave as an excuse the untruthful explanation that he had not completed the prescription - it had been carried off from his table with unexpected suddenness, so it was not his fault.


These three errors in making out prescriptions have the following striking points of resemblance. Up to now it has only happened to the doctor with this one drug; each time it involved a woman patient of advanced years, and each time the dose was too strong. From the brief analysis it emerged that the doctors relation to his mother must have been of decisive importance. For he recalled that on one occasion - one, moreover, which most probably occurred before these symptomatic acts - he had made out the same prescription for his mother, who was also an old woman; he had ordered a dose of 0.03, although he was more familiar with the usual dose of 0.02. This, as he told himself, was in order to give her radical help. His frail mother reacted to the drug with congestion in the head and an unpleasant dryness of the throat. She complained of this, alluding half-jokingly to the risks that could come from a consultation with a son. There were in fact other occasions when his mother, who was, incidentally, a doctors daughter, raised similar critical and half jocular objections to drugs recommended at various times by her doctor son, and spoke of being poisoned.


So far as the present writer can fathom this sons relations with his mother, there is no doubt that he is an instinctively affectionate child, but his mental estimate of his mother and his personal respect for her are by no means exaggerated. He shares a household with a brother a year younger than himself and with his mother, and has felt for years that this arrangement was inhibiting his erotic freedom. We have, of course, learnt from psycho-analytic experience that such reasons are readily misused as an excuse for an internal attachment. The doctor accepted the analysis, being fairly well satisfied with the explanation, and laughingly suggested that the word belladonna (i.e., beautiful woman) could also have an erotic reference. He had also occasionally used the drug himself in the past.


In my judgement serious parapraxes like the present ones are brought about in exactly the same way as the innocent ones that we normally investigate.9


(11) The next slip of the pen, reported by Sándor Ferenczi, will be thought quite especially innocent. It can he understood as being an act of condensation, resulting from impatience (compare the slip of the tongue, Der Apfe, above, p. 1152); and this view might have been maintained if a penetrating analysis of the occurrence had not revealed a stronger disturbing factor:

"I am reminded of the Anektode",¹ I once wrote in my note book. Naturally I meant "Anekdote "; actually it was the one about a gipsy who had been sentenced to death, and who asked as a favour to be allowed himself to choose the tree from which he was to be hanged. (In spite of a keen search he failed to find any suitable tree.)'


(12) On the other hand there are times when the most insignificant slip in writing can serve to express a dangerous secret meaning. An anonymous correspondent reports:

I ended a letter with the words: "Herzlichste Grüsse an Ihre Frau Gemahlin und ihren Sohn."² Just before I put the sheet in the envelope I noticed the error I had made in the first letter of "ihren" and corrected it. On the way home from my last visit to this married couple the lady who was with me had remarked that the son bore a striking resemblance to a family friend and was in fact undoubtedly his child.


¹ [A non-existent word; but the last part of it, Tode, means death.]

² [Warmest greetings to your wife and her son. The German possessive adjective ihr, as spelt with a small i, means her; when spelt with a capital I, it means your.]0


(13) A lady sent her sister a message of good wishes on the occasion of her taking up residence in a new and spacious house. A friend who was present noticed that the writer had put the wrong address on the letter. She had not even addressed it to the house that her sister had just left, but to her first house which she had moved into immediately after her marriage and had given up long before. This friend drew the ladys attention to the slip. Youre right, she was forced to confess; but how did the idea come into my head? Why did I do it? I think, said her friend, you probably grudge her the fine large home which will now be hers, while you feel yourself cramped for space; and therefore you put her back in her first home where she was no better off than you are. I certainly grudge her her new home, the other frankly admitted, and added: What a pity ones always so petty in such things!


(14) Ernest Jones reports the following slip of the pen, which was supplied to him by A. A. Brill:

A patient wrote to him on the subject of his sufferings, which he tried to attribute to worry about his financial affairs induced by a cotton crisis: "My trouble is all due to that d---d frigid wave; there isnt even any seed." (By "wave" he meant of course a trend in the money market.) What he really wrote, however, was not "wave" but "wife". In the bottom of his heart he cherished half-avowed reproaches against his wife on account of her sexual anaesthesia and childlessness, and he dimly realized, with right, that his life of enforced abstinence played a considerable part in the genesis of his symptoms.


(15) Dr. R. Wagner (1911) relates of himself:

In reading through an old lecture note-book I found that I had made a small slip in the hurry of taking down the notes. Instead of "Epithel [epithelium]", I had written "Edithel". If we stress the first syllable we have the diminutive form of a girls name.¹ The retrospective analysis is simple enough. At the time I made the slip I was only very superficially acquainted with the lady of this name; it was not till much later that our relations became intimate. The slip of the pen is therefore a neat indication of the break-through of the unconscious attraction I felt to her at a time when I myself actually had no inkling of it, and my choice of the diminutive form at the same time showed the nature of the accompanying feelings.


¹ [In Austria l is the common diminutive termination.]1


(16) From Frau Dr. von Hug-Hellmuth (1912):

A doctor prescribed "Leviticowasser " for a woman patient instead of "Levicowasser". This error, which gave a chemist a welcome opportunity for passing adverse comments, may very well be viewed in a milder light if one looks out for the possible motivations arising from the unconscious and is prepared at any rate to concede them a certain plausibility - even though they are merely the subjective conjectures of someone who is not closely acquainted with the doctor. In spite of his habit of using somewhat harsh language to scold his patients for their far-from-rational diet - to read them a lecture, so to speak - the doctor enjoyed great popularity, so that his waiting-room was crowded before and during his consulting hour; and this provided a justification for his wish that the patients he had seen should dress as quickly as possible - "vite, vite". If I remember correctly, his wife was French by birth: this lends some support to my seemingly rather bold assumption that he used French in his wish for greater speed from his patients. It is in any case a habit of many people to draw on foreign words to express such wishes: my own father hurried us along as children on our walks by calling out "avanti gioventù" [Italian for "forward, youth"] or "marchez au pas" [French for "forward march"]; while a very elderly physician, with whom I was in treatment for a throat complaint as a girl, used to try to inhibit my movements, which seemed much too hasty to him, by murmuring a soothing "piano, piano" [Italian for "gently, gently"]. Thus I can very easily imagine that the other doctor had the same habit too, and so made the slip of writing "Leviticowasser" instead of "Levicowasser".


The same paper contains other examples recalled from its authors youth (frazösisch instead of französich, and a slip in writing the name Karl).2


(17) I have to thank Herr J. G., who also contributed an example mentioned above for the following account of a slip of the pen. In content it is identical with a notorious bad joke, but in this case the intention of making a joke could be definitely ruled out:

While I was a patient in a (lung-) sanatorium I learnt to my regret that the same illness which had forced me to seek treatment in an institution had been diagnosed in a close relative of mine. In a letter to my relative I recommended him to go to a specialist, a well-known professor, with whom I was myself in treatment, and of whose authority in medical matters I was fully satisfied, while having at the same time every reason to deplore his discourteousness: for, only a short time before, this same professor had refused to write me a testimonial which it was very important for me to have. In his reply to my letter my relative drew my attention to a slip of the pen which, since I immediately recognized the cause of it, gave me particular amusement. In my letter I had used the following phrase: "and so I advise you to insult Professor X. without delay". I had of course, intended to write "consult". I should perhaps point out that my knowledge of Latin and French rules out the possibility of explaining it as a mistake due to ignorance.


(18) Omissions in writing have naturally a claim to be considered in the same light as slips of the pen. Dattner (1911) has reported a curious instance of a historical parapraxis. In one of the sections of the law dealing with the financial obligations of Austria and Hungary, settled in the Compromise of 1867 between the two countries, the word actual was left out of the Hungarian translation; and Dattner makes it plausible to suppose that the unconscious desire of the Hungarian parliamentary draftsmen to grant Austria the least possible advantages played a part in causing the omission.


We have every reason to suppose, too, that the very frequent repetitions of the same word in writing and copying - perseverations - are likewise not without significance. If the writer repeats a word he has already written, this is probably an indication that it was not so easy for him to get away from it: that he could have said more at that point but had omitted to do so, or something of the kind. Perseveration in copying seems to be a substitute for saying I too. I have had lengthy medico-legal opinions before me which show perseverations on the copyists part at particularly important passages. The interpretation I should have liked to give them would be that, bored with his impersonal role, the copyist was introducing his own gloss: Just my case or its just the same with us.


(19) Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent our treating misprints as writing mistakes on the compositors part, and our regarding them as being in a very great measure motivated. I have not set about making a systematic collection of such parapraxes, which could be very amusing and instructive. In the work which I have already referred to a number of times, Jones has devoted a special section to misprints.

The distortions found in the text of telegrams can also at times be understood as writing mistakes on the telegraphists part. In the summer holidays I received a telegram from my publishers, the text of which was unintelligible to me. It ran: Vorräte erhalten, Einladung X. dringend. The solution of the riddle starts from the name X. mentioned in it. X. was the author of a book to which I was to write an Einleitung '. This Einleitung was what had been turned into the Einladung '. I was then able to recall that some days earlier I had sent my publishers a Vorrede ' to another book; so this was the acknowledgement of its arrival. The true text had very probably run: Vorrede erhalten, Einleitung X. dringend. We may assume that it had fallen victim to a revision by the telegraphists hunger-complex, in the course of which, moreover the two halves of the sentence became linked more closely than the sender had intended. It is, incidentally, a pretty instance of the secondary revision that can be seen at work in most dreams.¹


¹ Cf. the chapter on the dream-work in my Interpretation of Dreams.4


The possibility of tendentious misprints has been discussed by Herbert Silberer (1922).

(20) From time to time other writers have drawn attention to misprints the tendentiousness of which cannot easily be challenged. See, for example, Storfers paper The Political Demon of Misprints (1914) and his short note (1915) which I reprint here:

A political misprint is to be found in the issue of März for April 25 of this year. A dispatch from Argyrokastron reported some remarks made by Zographos, the leader of the insurgent Epirotes in Albania (or, if that is preferred, the President of the Independent Government of the Epirus). It included the following phrase: "Believe me: a self-governing Epirus would be in the most fundamental interest of Prince Wied. He could fall down on it." Even without this fatal misprint the Prince of Albania is no doubt well aware that the acceptance of the support offered him by the Epirotes would mean his downfall '.


(21) I myself recently read an article in one of our Vienna daily papers, the title of which - The Bukovina under Rumanian Rule - would have at least to be called premature, since at the time Rumania had not yet disclosed herself as an enemy. From the content of the article it was quite clear that the word should have been Russian, not Rumanian; yet the censor, too, seems to have found the phrase so little surprising that even he overlooked this misprint,


It is hard to avoid suspecting a political misprint on coming across the following literal misprint in a circular from the celebrated (formerly the Imperial and Royal) printing firm of Karl Prochaska in Teschen:

By a decree of the Entente Powers, fixing the frontier at the River Olsa, not only Silesia but Teschen as well have been divided into two parts, of which one zuviel¹ to Poland and the other to Czecho-Slovakia.


¹ [Too much. The word should have been the similarly pronounced zufiel, fell to the share of.]


Theodor Fontane was once obliged to take up arms in an amusing way against a misprint which was only too full of meaning. On March 29, 1860, he wrote to the publisher Julius Springer:


Dear Sir,

I seem to be fated not to see my modest wishes fulfilled. A glance at the proof sheets¹ which I enclose will tell you what I mean. What is more, I have been sent only one set of proofs, although I need two, for reasons which I have already given. And my request that the first set should be returned to me for further revision - with special regard to the English words and phrases - has not been carried out. I set great store by this. For instance, on page 27 of the present sheets a scene between John Knox and the Queen contains the words: "worauf Maria aasrief."² In the face of such a fulminating mistake, it would be a relief to know that it has really been removed. The unfortunate "aas" for "aus" is made all the worse by there being no doubt that she (the queen) must really have called him that to herself.


Yours faithfully,

Theodor Fontane.


Wundt (1900, 374) gives an explanation which deserves notice for the fact (which can easily be confirmed) that we make slips of the pen more readily than slips of the tongue. In the course of normal speaking the inhibitory function of the will is continuously directed to bringing the course of ideas and the articulatory movements into harmony with each other. If the expressive movement which follows the ideas is retarded through mechanical causes, as is the case in writing . . ., such anticipations make their appearance with particular ease.


¹ The book in question was Beyond the Tweed: Sketches and Letters from Scotland, which Julius Springer published in 1860.

² [On which Mary "aasrief"': i. e., cried Aas (literally, carrion; colloquially, filthy blackguard). The word should have been Ausrief meaning simply cried out.]6


Observation of the conditions under which misreadings occur gives rise to a doubt which I should not like to leave unmentioned, because it can, I think, become the starting-point for a fruitful investigation. Everyone knows how frequently the reader finds that in reading aloud his attention wanders from the text and turns to his own thoughts. As a result of this digression on the part of his attention he is often unable, if interrupted and questioned, to give any account of what he has read. He has read, as it were, automatically, but almost always correctly. I do not think that under such conditions mistakes in reading show a noticeable increase. There is in fact a whole series of functions which we are accustomed to assume will be performed most exactly when done automatically - that is, with scarcely any conscious attention. From this it seems to follow that the factor of attention in mistakes in speaking, reading and writing must be determined in a different way from that described by Wundt (cessation or diminution of attention). The examples which we have subjected to analysis have not really justified us in assuming that there was a quantitative lessening of attention; we found something which is perhaps not quite the same thing: a disturbance of attention by an alien thought which claims consideration.

7 Between slips of the pen and forgetting may be inserted the case of someone who forgets to append a signature. An unsigned cheque comes to the same thing as a forgotten cheque. For the significance of a forgetting of a similar kind I will cite a passage from a novel, which Dr. Hanns Sachs came upon:

A very instructive and transparent example of the sureness with which imaginative writers know how to employ the mechanism of parapraxes and symptomatic acts in the psycho-analytic sense is contained in John Galsworthys novel The Island Pharisees. The story centres round the vacillations of a young man of the well-to-do middle-class between his strong social sympathy and the conventional attitudes of his class. Chapter XXVI portrays the way in which he reacts to a letter from a young neer-do-well, to whom - prompted by his original attitude to life - he had supplied help on two or three occasions. The letter contains no direct request for money, but paints a picture of great distress which can have no other meaning. Its recipient at first rejects the idea of throwing this money away on a hopeless case instead of using it to support charitable causes. "To give a helping hand, a bit of himself, a nod of fellowship to any fellow-being irrespective of a claim, merely because he happened to be down, was sentimental nonsense! The line must be drawn! But in the muttering of this conclusion he experienced a twinge of honesty. Humbug! You dont want to part with your money, thats all!"


Thereupon he wrote a friendly letter, ending with the words: "I enclose a cheque. Yours sincerely, Richard Shelton."

"Before he had written out the cheque, a moth fluttering round the candle distracted his attention, and by the time he had caught and put it out he had forgotten that the cheque was not enclosed." The letter was posted in fact just as it was.

There is however an even subtler motivation for the lapse of memory than the break-through of the selfish purpose, which, had apparently been surmounted, of avoiding giving away the money.


At the country seat of his future parents-in-law, surrounded by his fiancée, her family and their guests, Shelton felt isolated; his parapraxis indicates that he longed for his protégé who, as a result of his past and of his view of life, forms a complete contrast to the irreproachable company, uniformly moulded by one and the same set of conventions, that surround him. And in fact this person, who can no longer keep his place without being supported, does in fact arrive some days later to get an explanation of why the promised cheque was not there.




If anyone should feel inclined to over-estimate the state of our present knowledge of mental life, a reminder of the function of memory is all that would be needed to force him to be more modest. No psychological theory has yet succeeded in giving a connected account of the fundamental phenomenon of remembering and forgetting; in fact, the complete analysis of what can actually be observed has so far scarcely been begun. To-day forgetting has perhaps become more of a puzzle than remembering, ever since we have learnt from the study of dreams and pathological phenomena that even something we thought had been forgotten long ago may suddenly re-emerge in consciousness.


There are, it is true, a few indications already in our possession which we expect to be accepted generally. We assume that forgetting is a spontaneous process which may be regarded as requiring a certain length of time. We lay stress on the fact that forgetting involves a certain selection taking place from among the impressions presented to us, and similarly from among the details of each impression or experience. We know some of the conditions enabling what would otherwise have been forgotten to be retained in the memory and to be re-awakened. Nevertheless, on countless occasions in daily life we can observe how imperfect and unsatisfactory our understanding of these conditions is. Thus we may listen to two people who were in receipt of the same external impressions - who took a journey together, for example - exchanging recollections at some later date. What has remained firm in the memory of one of them has often been forgotten by the other, as if it had never happened; and this is true even where there is no justification for assuming that the impression was psychically of greater importance for the one than for the other. A whole quantity of factors determining the choice of what is to be remembered are obviously still beyond our ken.

: 2014-12-23; : 132; ?;

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