Briefly: Word retrieval errors based on semantics

A particularly nice error I committed in writing up “Late summer porn sales” (here):

now that Independence Day and gay pride days are past and Memorial Day is about six weeks in the future

Memorial Day instead of Labor Day.

This is, first of all, a semantics-based word retrieval error, rather than a phonologically-based one; Labor and Memorial are not at all phonologically similar, but they are semantically similar — both names of US holidays. Even better, they are semantically opposed: in a convention of US culture, Memorial Day is the beginning of the summer season, Labor Day the end of it.

(Alas, I didn’t catch the error until well after I’d posted.)

“Semantic errors” — word retrieval errors based on semantics — are reasonably common, but they are rarely as pretty as this one. Here’s another one involving holidays, but without the semantic opposition of my error. From a radio announcer on WQXR on 2/14/15 (note the date):

… on our Halloween … uh, Valentine’s Day countdown

It’s hard to know what facilitated this error, and the perpetrator probably had no clue.

Semantic errors are fairly often encouraged by phonological features; consider my error

To Kill a Nightingale

(with nightingale for mocking bird) in this posting. Jan Freeman caught the semantic error, and noted it in a comment on my posting.

I replied to that comment:

Yikes. Now corrected. But I’m leaving your comment on the site because my error is a nice example of a semantic slip — but facilitated by the phonological properties of the words (same prosody, both beginning in a nasal, etc.).

And Jan added yet another factor that might have been at play:

Yes, I thought of that, and also wondered if one of the nightingales populating English literature and poetry was lurking at the back of your mind. They’re much more literary than mockingbirds, after all.

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