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Yazmajian, R.V. (1966). Verbal and Symbolic Processes in Slips of the Tongue. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 14:443-461.

(1966). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 14:443-461

Verbal and Symbolic Processes in Slips of the Tongue

Richard V. Yazmajian, M.D.


This paper attempts to demonstrate that in many instances the associative chains of slips are of secondary importance in their theoretical understanding and clinical management. Clinical material is cited which indicates the relationship of verbal conflicts in slips to the fact that in some cases the very process of slip formation becomes defensively instinctualized and assumes a symbolic discharge value. The material illustrates the manner in which the ego unconsciously can utilize the technique of slip formation for the symbolic expression of oral, anal, phallic, and genital drives and fantasies as well as certain ego identifications and superego demands.

Additional ways in which some slips are unconsciously utilized for symbolic purposes are clinically demonstrated through study of the total form of slips and the reactions to them. It is clinically shown that both the creation of a slip and its immediate repression were unconsciously intended by one patient because of the symbolic

meaning attached to the act of repression. Since the act of repression was an integral part of the total form of the slip, the analysis of its meaning was essential to its full understanding. Another patient who was apparently unaware of having made a slip reported upon questioning that she was aware of having committed it but "didn't want to bother correcting it." The unconscious symbolic implications of this conscious attitude required analysis since the ego unconsciously intended it to be part of the total form of the slip. Slips involving the reversal of time sequences were created by one patient in order to negate symbolically time itself. The slips of another patient invariably utilized only those words which he had learned in college. This specificity of the types of words characteristic of his slips had a special symbolic meaning. A case is cited that demonstrates the use of a slip as a means of unconscious communication to the analyst.

Comment is made upon the general relationship of orality and verbal activity to slips. Patients commonly have strong defensive reactions, such as denial and repression, to slips because of fear of loss of control of the use of the mouth. Clinically, these defensive reactions often warrant more central analytic attention than the associative chains.

The tendency to commit slips is considered to be a "normal" psychopathological phenomenon. "Normal" slips comprise the center of a spectrum whose poles are characterized by symptomatic slip formation at one end, and at the other by fear of making slips which results in their almost total absence in everyday life.

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