Tip of the Tongue

Have you ever had one of those moments where a name … a fact … the title of a song you used to love … is just out of reach?   You can almost see it if you close your eyes.   If you could just untie your tongue you could say it.   Someone wants to tell you the answer you seek but you want to remember on your own … you’re just too young to be forgetting things.   Give me a minute, you say, It’s right on the tip of my tongue, but after a minute, you still can’t remember.  It’s Top Sites Tuesday, the meme where we offer Two Thoughts on Tuesday, and this week, I’m thinking about things on the Tip of the Tongue.  Saturday evening at my men’s retreat, I was sitting with my younger friend, Daniel, after dinner.   Daniel seems fascinated by the fact that at sixty-eight, I can still retrieve odd and trivial facts from my aging mental file system.  We were talking about the beautiful retreat center gardens and he sang a few bars of an old song:

But I knew (I knew, I knew, I knew, I knew)
She had made me happy (happy, happy)
Flowers in her hair, flowers everywhere.

He was fairly impressed when I was able to sing the chorus, and, as a result, Name That Tune: The Flower Girl**.   Ah, he said, but who sang it?  I knew I knew the answer.  I could almost see it.  It was a Tip-of-the-Tongue moment.   I resisted the urge to reach for my smartphone and I told him not to tell me.  I was, after all, being testing.   The conversation moved on to shades of meaning in synonyms (Daniel loves words as much as I do) and, after a few minutes, I said, The group that sang it begins with C, and a few seconds later, I said it was The Cow-SomethingsClose enough, he said, It’s The Cowsills.  I’m impressed.

I’d used an old trick I learned my freshman year of college at Stevens Institute of Technology, which at the time had an honor code.   During exams, we were free to get up and walk around, even leave the room but we had to sign an honor pledge at the bottom of the page swearing that we hadn’t cheated.  One of my professors suggested that we could take advantage of that if we couldn’t remember something on a test by leaving the room to change our mental context.  Maybe stand in the hall, or look outside or even sit in a stall in the bathroom … anything to stop trying to remember.  Another approach was to go on to the next question.  I’ve found it’s frequently a solution to those Tip-of-the Tongue moments.  There seem to be two schools of thought as to why.  According to some sources, the retrieval process for dimly remembered information just takes time and continues subconsciously, even when I stop trying.  In other words, I’d have remembered The Cow-Somethings whether I stopped trying or not.   On the other hand, it’s well known that tension interferes with the recall process, so perhaps when I stop trying, it’s my more relaxed state that lets me remember sooner.   Here’s Thought Number One: Either way, it’s better than shouting shouting The Cow-Somethings !!! in my sleep in the middle of the night and scaring the hell out of Muri.

There seem to be many opinions as to the causes of TOT (Tip of the Tongue) moments but one thing is for sure … as we age, their number increases … according to Professor Bennett Schwartz of Florida International University, twenty-somethings experience about one a week, while sixty-somethings have one a day.   I’ve always assumed that in the interests of maintaining my recall, I should resist looking my answers up on the internet, at least some of the time.  But I found an article on ScienCentralreporting on a new study by McMaster University psychologists Amy Beth Warriner and Karin Humphreys.  In their experiments, volunteers played a vocabulary game on a computer, responding to each vocabulary cue by answering know, don’t know or TOT.   Some volunteers were given ten seconds to agonize over the word on the Tip of the Tongue before being shown the answer, while other were given thirty.   In subsequent tests on the same questions, those who agonized over the answer longer were more likely to have trouble with the same words.   In other words, the TOT state is learned and the time spent struggling is incorrect practice time in that volunteers are practicing the erroneous stuck condition rather than remembering the answer.  This suggests that using the internet right away is the best strategy.

So, here’s Thought Number TwoIsn’t it just like life that the act of showing off my memory to my younger friend could actually make it worse?   Anyway, there’s one more thing.  Uhhhh, wait a minute.  It’s something to do with a button.  (He quickly Googles BlogDumps).  Oh, yeah.  As long as you’re here please remember to push my button … gently … to make me Number One on Top Sites Tuesday #168.

** Of course, when I Googled the song, I remembered that the real title is The Rain, the Park and Other Things.  So much for recall.


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6 Comments on “Tip of the Tongue”


  1. “if we couldn’t remember something on a test by leaving the room to change our mental context” that actually works wonders! At least it has for me, personally.

  2. cherperz Says:

    I must have always had a bunch of hard asses for teachers. Never did I get to move around.

    I do find that if I am pressured to come up with a quick answer or if I am extremely tired, I struggle with my memory. I am not sure if that has increased in frequency as I have gotten older.

    I am impressed that you came up with the Cow something. I know the song but I had know idea who sang it. I doubt that I ever knew.


  3. I have found that I’m better off if I stop trying to remember, as well. Or, as you say, I’ll wake up at 2am shouting something no one cares about anymore. Similarly, Bill Cosby had a great solution to what happens when you walk into a room and can’t remember what you were going to do: you push on your butt. Because you’ll remember what you wanted when you go back and sit down, so you might as well save yourself the exhaustion.

  4. Trina Says:

    I’m thinking my teachers should have been privy to this information. I always get mad at myself when I have a TOT moment but then again a good Simpson style smack on the forehead and a “DOH!” usually helps the situation LOL

    Clicks!!
    –Trina

  5. Wolfbernz Says:

    Hi Bud,

    I sure seem to be having more of those TOT moments as time goes by. I like your thought #2.

    Clicks! Wolf


  6. Boy have I had a lot of tot since my chemo, They tell me that it causes a lot of problems with memory, I do believe it just because I have experienced it so many times. Good luck on showing off your memory to the younger generation.

    Love and Blessings,
    AngelBaby


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