Here’s Exactly What to Do the Next Time a Word Is “On the Tip of Your Tongue”

Whatever you do, don't Google it!

You know the feeling. You’re having a conversation, and then all of a sudden, the word you want to use next is just not there. It’s frustrating and even a little bit bizarre. You’re thinking of a specific word, one that you know, and you’ve almost got it—but not quite. (Here are some uncommon words we don’t use anymore, but should!)

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There’s a name for that feeling—unsurprisingly, researchers call it “tip-of-the-tongue syndrome.” Professor Karin Humphreys of McMaster University breaks down why it happens. We don’t realize this because of how natural it (usually) is, but the process our brains go through to turn thoughts into words is very complicated. Though most of the time, our brains complete the process without a hitch, sometimes they can hit a snag—causing us to struggle to come up with a word we know. By the way, don’t miss these 10 tips to keep your brain healthy.

Often, you’re relieved when the person you’re talking to comes up with the word for you—but that’s only a temporary fix. In fact, Humphreys claims that if you retrieve the word from an outside source, you’re more likely to experience the syndrome again. Yup, that means no looking it up on Google! If you don’t allow yourself to come up with the word, the process of forgetting it will be cemented, and you’ll likely lose that same word again.

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So, if you tend to yell “Wait, don’t tell me…!” when you’re at a loss, you’re doing it right! Instead of letting your friend tell you the word, try to think of it yourself. If you can’t, have your friend give you hints—the first few letters, for example. According to Humphreys, that still counts as “remembering” it yourself, which can program your brain to remember the word the next time. Each time you come up with a word yourself, you’ll come a little bit closer to banishing that pesky syndrome once and for all.

Plus: Google might not be the best solution for tip-of-the-tongue syndrome, but it can do some seriously cool tricks.


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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.