Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt
Do you ever have a hard time coming up with the right word? You get stuck and pause in the middle of a sentence, grasping to remember the name of that type of knife technique where you dice vegetables until they’re incredibly small. By the way, the term you’re looking for is “brunoise,” but you can’t quite retrieve it from the place in your brain where that word lives.
We have a few different terms for not remembering the right word. If you can’t remember the right word or term, you are experiencing “lethologica.” This is when you can’t remember the word “brunoise,” but for some reason, you can recall “chiffonade” and “julienne.” This trips us up almost as much as the hurdler who had her shoelaces tied together, and it makes us feel like we’re not the sharpest knives in the drawer, so to speak.
If, on the other hand, you have a hard time remembering names, you are experiencing “lethonomia.” I knew a guy who was horrible with names; he simply referred to someone whose name he couldn’t remember as “what’s his head.” For some reason, I wanted to remember the name of the guy who used to play first base for the Toronto Blue Jays. He wore a batting helmet out in the field. As a member of the Blue Jays, the guy whose name I couldn’t remember won World Series rings against the Braves and Phillies in 1992 and 1993, respectively. He was left-handed like me. I could remember all those details, but I couldn’t remember his name was “John Olerud.” That’s lethonomia.
Lethologica and lethonomia come from the River Lethe from Greek mythology. Also known as the River of Forgetfulness, the River Lethe was one of the five rivers of the underworld of Hades. As the legend goes, when a dead person drank from the Lethe, her earthly memories would be erased, and she would be reincarnated. There also was a goddess called Lethe, who was the divine representation of oblivion and forgetfulness.
When you become obsessed with trying to remember a specific word, you are experiencing “loganamnosis.” I recommend carrying around a small notebook or keeping a running note on your smartphone with thoughts and ideas that come and go throughout the day so you don’t forget them later. However, if you can’t shake your loganamnosis because the word feels like it’s at the tip of your tongue, I recommend a hearty bowl of alphabet soup.
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of “Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life.” Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.