Misspeak

What have Carol Thatcher, Jeremy Clarkson and almost every other human being including me got in common? The answer is that we have all said things that we have regretted afterwards.

So if "misspeak" (as Hilary Clinton once referred to it) is so common, why did Carol Thatcher's comments provoke such outrage?

Perhaps the answer is that we expect higher standards of celebrities than we do of ourselves. After all, if you were going to appear on television you would probably speak very carefully and precisely - but isn't that because it would be an unfamiliar event for you?

However, maybe this is precisely why expectations and reality are at odds.

We know that the "language centre" of the brain is in the left hemisphere - the half that deals with logic and which process information sequentially. We therefore expect spoken language to be structured, precise and considered which, for the most part, it is. But what about language that comes from the right side of the brain?

While most language comes from the left side of the brain, we know that language borne out of emotion, such as swearing or singing, comes from the right side of the brain. This is why Gareth Gates can sing brilliantly yet speaks with a stutter and why some people who have lost the power of speech as the result of a stroke can still sing and swear.

So let's go back to Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson. In each case they were trying to be entertaining and humorous. Although the left half of their brain was managing the language process of conveying meaning, it was being motivated by the right hemisphere's desire to entertain. It is my opinion that in these circumstances the likelihood of saying something which you later regret is increased.

This is certainly consistent with my own experience as whenever I have made a verbal faux pas it has invariably been while trying to be funny!

Published February 2009

< Back to list