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What is a Freudian Slip?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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When words tumble out of your mouth that you didn’t intend, have you actually meant them in some deep down repressed part of yourself? Are they the expression of semi-conscious or repressed desires, or simply a slip of the tongue? We give these unintended words and phrases the name Freudian slip, expressing that somewhere deep down, we do mean what we didn’t mean to say. Sigmund Freud did describe this phenomenon, calling it Fehlleistung in German and parapraxis in English.

The words translate respectively as faulty action and other action, and Freud’s explanation for the now named Freudian slip is that these verbal slips often signified underlying intention, even if the slips were very small. For the analyst, such slips were excellent news since they might give the analyst a direction in which to take the therapy or indicate something on the patient’s mind that needed discussion. Unlike today where a Freudian slip may be seen as often sexually motivated or conveying double entendre, Freud didn’t necessarily ascribe sexual motivation to these things. Instead they were simply a window that might reflect deeper meaning or a way of getting to the feelings behind the words.

Sometime the Freudian slip is interpreted incorrectly as expression of our unconscious desires. This is hard to understand if you take Freudian analysis seriously, since the ego could not so readily access the unconscious mind. Instead these slips ought to be understood as expression of repressed desires, that aren’t so deeply imbedded in unconscious thought processes. They may be semi-conscious but aren’t fully realized by the person who makes a Freudian slip.

On the other hand, Freud’s theory is an unproven one. What we say might be due to what language we’ve learned, simple errors in speaking or grammatical processing, exhaustion, overuse of alcohol, or a variety of other things. Moreover, if interpretation of the slip falls to another person, his or her interpretation of language may be wholly different than the speaker’s is. If someone is always interpreting other people’s language as somehow sexually based, it may be possible that the slip lies with the interpreter and not the speaker.

In the modern sense, the term Freudian slip is not much overanalyzed. If we accidentally say something wrong and are aware of it, we may quickly add “Freudian slip” to poke fun at our own language errors. In this sense, we may be joking about our intent or be serious. Much depends upon the circumstances in which such slips occur.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Oceana — On May 25, 2012

Because of several so-called Freudian slips, my band members teased me a lot. I actually believe that the things I said were not Freudian slips. I think that the guys’ perverted minds twisted them to be something they were not.

Any little thing that I said that could possibly have a sexual meaning got giggled at by these guys. Some of the time, I didn’t even get the joke. That’s what led me to believe that I wasn’t repressing anything, and I was the victim of mental manipulation.

I was the only girl in the group. I started watching everything that I said, examining it for any double meaning before letting it out of my mouth.

By Perdido — On May 25, 2012

I think the best Freudian slips are the ones that come out during therapy sessions. They can actually be beneficial instead of flat-out embarrassing.

My therapist was able to help me get to the root of my stress by listening closely to my words. She pointed out a Freudian slip that I had used, and I wasn’t even aware that I had said it. She had to rewind the tape of our session and play it back to me in order for me to believe her.

That was a major breakthrough. She helped me see something that I never would have seen on my own, and because of that, I was able to resolve my issues.

By kylee07drg — On May 24, 2012

@shell4life - I know what you mean. I uttered a Freudian slip during a job interview, and I think it cost me the position!

I had applied at two different advertising agencies, but the one where I really wanted to work hadn’t given me a call. I did get an interview with the other one, and when the lady asked me during our meeting why I wanted to work for the company, I stated that it had always been a dream of mine to work for AdVisions, which was the name of their competition and the place I had really hoped would hire me!

By shell4life — On May 24, 2012

I have uttered some embarrassing Freudian slips before. They usually involved a person that I had been crushing on for years.

Even after I got a boyfriend, this person was still in the back of my mind. Though I didn’t make it a practice of thinking about him often, sometimes his name slipped off my tongue so naturally.

I was with a group of friends, and luckily, my boyfriend wasn’t around when this first happened. When describing how crazy I was about my boyfriend to another girl, I accidentally used my old crush’s name instead. This led to a whole other conversation on repressed desires and true love.

By SarahSon — On May 23, 2012

It seems like politicians are well known for making Freudian slips. Many times when these are recorded, they are played over and over again on various TV shows.

It is true, there can be quite a few laughs out of these slips of the tongue or gaffes, and some people will probably always analyze what has been said as possibly having a deeper meaning.

I am sure there are times that these slips may be what the speaker is actually thinking, but didn't really want to speak out loud.

Our unconscious minds can work in funny ways. I just hope everything I see out loud is not analyzed with a fine tooth comb like that.

By myharley — On May 22, 2012

My cousin is a psychology professor at a college university. When I was looking for some unique gift ideas, I came across these Freudian slips sticky notes.

These were the perfect gift for her and she loved them! Not everyone would appreciate this gift, or even realize the significance of them, but for her, it was a great gift.

The cover for these sticky notes has a picture of Freud on it, and each note you write on is supposed to reveal your inner mind.

I would probably not want to write on them, thinking everything I wrote down might by psychoanalzyed, but these notes are all in good fun.

By golf07 — On May 22, 2012

When I was visiting a friend on the West coast, I saw a lingerie store called the Freudian Slip. I thought this was a very clever name for this type of store.

There is more than one way you could interpret this, but how convenient that this store sold slips, and other lingerie items.

When it comes to the psychoanalysis part of this term, I think that many people do associate a sexual connotation with it.

Whether this is the original intention or not, it seems like this has been part of the interpretation of this term for a long time.

By julies — On May 21, 2012

When I took a psychology class in college, I remember studying about Freud. I don't remember very many specifics other than he seemed like a very strange man with odd ideas.

I have heard many people refer to a Freudian slip when something came out different from the way they intended. Many times, the slip can actually be kind of funny and everyone gets a good laugh out of it.

I think there is a lot to think about when it comes to the interpretation of the slip being on the side of the interpreter and not so much the speaker.

If someone is going to overanalyze what someone is saying, I think it would more of a 'problem' for the person listening than the one who was speaking.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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