Misspeaking, Typos, and Thinkos


I’ve heard politicians use the “misspoke” excuse to explain away some pretty lengthy and involved statements.


Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist, distinguishes two kinds of speech mistakes: “typos” and “thinkos”. Typos are ubiquitous and listeners hardly notice many of them. Thinkos go deeper; they betray that the speaker might actually not know something. If someone says the capital of Italy is Florence, that’s probably a true thinko, unless the person is an expert in Italy who just happened to be thinking about a forthcoming holiday in Florence. But when people are caught in a thinko, they are often tempted by the “misspoke” explanation—it’s hard to prove them wrong, after all, if they say they knew the right thing but just accidentally said the wrong one. It could happen to anybody.

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