AskDefine | Define parapraxis

Dictionary Definition

parapraxis n : a minor inadvertent mistake usually observed in speech or writing or in small accidents or memory lapses etc. [syn: slip, slip-up, miscue] [also: parapraxes (pl)]

User Contributed Dictionary



parapraxis (Plural: parapraxes)
  1. a mistake, such as a slip of the tongue, that reveals a concealed thought or motive

Extensive Definition

A Freudian slip, or parapraxis, is an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is believed to be caused by the unconscious mind.
Some errors, such as a man accidentally calling his wife by the name of another woman, seem to represent relatively clear cases of Freudian slips. In other cases, the error might appear to be trivial or bizarre, but may show some deeper meaning on analysis. As a common pun goes, "A Freudian slip is like saying one thing, but meaning your mother." A Freudian slip is not limited to a slip of the tongue, or to sexual desires. It can extend to our word perception where we might read a word incorrectly because of our fixations. It is important to note that these slips are semi-conscious. This is to say that these thoughts are consciously repressed and then unconsciously released. This is unlike true Freudian repression, which is the unconscious act of making something conscious.


The Freudian slip is named after Sigmund Freud, who described the phenomenon he called Fehlleistung (literally meaning "faulty action" in German, but termed as parapraxis (from the hellenic παρά + πράξις, meaning other action) in English). In his 1901 book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Freud gives several examples of seemingly trivial, bizarre or nonsensical Freudian slips. The analysis is often quite lengthy and complex, as was the case with many of the dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams.


Popularisation of the term has diluted its technical meaning in some contexts to include any slip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, often in an attempt by the user to humorously assign hidden motives or sexual innuendo to the mistake. It is not clear, however, what Freud considered an "innocent" mistake, or if he thought that there were any innocent mistakes. The enormous quantity of slips analyzed in psychopathology, many of which are banal or apparently trivial, would seem to indicate that Freud felt almost any seemingly tiny slip or hesitation would respond to analysis. Another popularity that has been common among people that intend to counsel or provide social help to others is to use witnessed Freudian slips with shy, apprehensive, or reserved people as an indication that the person making the slip needs to speak more in depth regarding a more deeply repressed set of thoughts.

Alternative Explanations

Freud believed that verbal slips come from repressed desires. However, cognitive psychologists would counter that slips can represent a sequencing conflict in grammar production. Slips may be due to cognitive underspecification that can take a variety of forms -- inattention, incomplete sense data or insufficient knowledge. Secondly, they may be due to the existence of some locally appropriate response pattern that is strongly primed by its prior usage, recent activation or emotional change or by the situation calling conditions (MacMahon, 1995). Some sentences are just susceptible to the process of banalisation: the replacement of archaic or unusual expressions with forms that are in more common use. In other words, the errors were due to strong habit substitution (MacMahon, 1995)

Inducing Freudian Slips in a Laboratory Setting

a. Support for hypothesis

The advantage of studying speech errors like the Freudian slips is that one can be certain that influences were unconscious because the effects are counter to the person's conscious purpose. Similarly, one way of demonstrating the existence of unintended or unconscious influences of memory is to place those influences in opposition to consciously controlled, or intentional, use of memory (Jacoby, 1992)
Bernard J. Baars and Warren Motley (1985) performed a sexual attraction and fear of shock study. Participants included 3 groups of male students. The conditions of the experiment were as follows:
  1. Situation causing anxiety about shock
  2. Situation causing anxiety about sex
  3. No anxiety about the either one of the above (this was used as a control)
The task was to silently read pair of words on the computer screen. When buzzer went off, participants then had to read them out loud.
  • Condition 1- made twice as many shock-related slips as Condition 2.
  • Condition 2- made twice as many sex-related slips as Condition 3.
These results suggest that Freudian slips are possible. (Baars, 1992)

b. Follow-up Study

After the sexual attraction and fear of shock study, a follow-up attempt at systematic replication was made. It tested food-related slips with overweight eaters. There were 26 subjects (11 males and 15 females) of whom approximately half appeared overweight. Participants were divided by weight. The task elicited food-related spoonerisms, Examples:
  1. kurger bing - Burger King
  2. geet oodies - eat goodies
  3. dood ghinner - good dinner
There were 49 food-related spoonerisms. In addition, a bowl of candy was located in front of, and within reach of, the subjects. After hearing the spoonerisms, the subjects were given an extensive self- report questionnaire about impulse control, embedded within which were questions about overreacting and weight control. Results did not replicate the sexual attraction and fear of shock study because only the correlation between the conflict score and single food-related slips was significant. (Motley, 1985)
Maybe food anxiety is not as deep as sex and death? (Bloom, 2007)


See also


  • Bloom, J. (2007, October). Lecture. Presented at New School University, New York, New York.
  • Baars et al. (1992). Some caveats on testing the Freudian Slip Hypothesis, Experimental Slips and Human Error: Exploring the Architecture of Volition.
  • Freud, Sigmund. (1991 [1915]) Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition, pp50-108
  • Jacoby L. L., & Kelley, C. M. (1992). A process-dissociation framework for investigating unconscious influences: Freudian slips, projective tests, subliminal perception and signal detection theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1, 174–179.
  • MacMahon, B. (1995) - Language and Communication,15, 4, 289-328.
  • Motley, M. T. (1985). Slips of the tongue. Scientific American, 253, 116-127
  • Smith, D.J. Speech Errors, Speech Production Models, and Speech Pathology, (2003), Online. Internet.
parapraxis in German: Freudscher Versprecher
parapraxis in Spanish: Acto fallido
parapraxis in French: Lapsus#La m.C3.A9canique inconsciente du lapsus
parapraxis in Italian: Lapsus freudiano
parapraxis in Hebrew: טעות פרוידיאנית
parapraxis in Dutch: Freudiaanse verspreking
parapraxis in Polish: Czynność pomyłkowa
parapraxis in Portuguese: Acto falho
parapraxis in Serbian: Омашке
parapraxis in Finnish: Freudilainen lipsahdus
parapraxis in Swedish: Freudiansk felsägning
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