The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
Word Retrieval Snafus

People who are dyslexic often have trouble pulling out the right sounds.  It's not that they're not smart and don't know the meaning of words; it's a problem of getting the word with the right sound combination out.  If a dyslexic is afraid that he'll mess up a word, he'll say an easier word, even though he knows a more difficult word.  Dyslexics often say, "It's on the tip of my tongue," and what comes out may be a different word than intended. There was a little boy who was dyslexic and he was crossing the street with his dad and he saw lots of people jaywalking, and he looked up at his dad and he said, "Well, you know those Presbyterians ought to be more careful."  He, of course, meant pedestrians, but the wrong word came out.

Spoken language is made up of different sounds. For instance, the word "mat," sounds like one glob of sound, but it's really made up of three different sounds: "mm," "aa" and "tuh."   For people with dyslexia, these sounds are not as clear and crisp.  According to Dr. Sally Shaywitz, "Dyslexia affects spoken language sometimes profoundly.  It's not a problem with the meaning of words, it's a problem of getting the word with the right sound combination out.  People who are dyslexic know the word they want to say, but when they have to attach sounds to it, something else may come out. Or they may stumble or speak around the word, or just not be glib. A dyslexic is not the person that's going to come in and give you this glib speech."

Yet, however inarticulate he may seem, a dyslexic is quite capable of having very intelligent and advanced ideas.  Often word retrieval snafus occur when under pressure.  Being put on the spot brings anxiety and interferes with rapid and smooth word retrieval.  When someone without dyslexia wants to say a word, they go into their internal dictionary, pull out each sound, put them together and say the word.  He or she doesn't even know he's doing this—it's quick and automatic.  For a dyslexic, it's not that simple. He'll talk around the word, add a lot of umm's, say the wrong word, or simply stop short of completing his thought. Remember that this doesn't indicate his lack of knowledge or ability to think rapidly, but it can be frustrating and embarrassing nonetheless.

Despite intelligence, a good vocabulary, and great ideas, word retrieval snafus do happen.  Keeping a sense of humor can be helpful to keep things in perspective.  We've compiled a list of some of our favorites here:

  • "The dinosaurs became distinct."
  • "The monster is a pigment of my imagination."
  • "I hope I win the constellation prize."
  • "He had to use a fire distinguisher."
  • "That"s an expensive pendulum round that man's neck."
  • "Good punctuation means not to be late."
  • "He's a wolf in cheap clothing."
  • "Watch out for the Abdominal Snowman."
  •  "Michelangelo painted the Sixteenth Chapel." 
  • "My sister has extra-century perception." 
  • "Don't is a contraption."
  • "Teddy talked about Columbus"s exhibition."
  • "They say you want an evolution!" (instead of revolution). 
  • "You are all wealthy opponents." (instead of worthy)
  • "It"s a horse in the humper class." (instead of jumper)
  •  "He"s staying near the veterinary hospital." (instead of veteran's hospital)


Articles of interest:

New Study Reaffirms Centralities of Difficulties with the Sounds of Spoken Language in Dyslexia

Building a Word-Rich Life for Your Dyslexic Child