11 December 2010

Naughtie's gaffe: 'C', 'K' & 'U' sounds or 'Freudian slippage'?

I've been a bit late catching up on news of James Naughtie's 'slip of the tongue' on BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week because I was away on holiday when it happened.

But I did hear about it and started wondering, as I did on hearing of Gordon Brown's claim to have 'saved the world', whether it would turn out to be yet another case of an 'error' being triggered by sounds of nearby words.

Now I've been able to listen to it, I can report that this is exactly what appears to have happened. As you can see from the transcript and hear in the audio-clip below, the hard 'c' or 'k' sound came just before and twice in quick succession immediately after the dreaded 'slip' - and, when a speaker is reading, he can see sounds and rhymes coming up before he's actually read out some of the earlier words (including the 'u' sound that also comes both before and after the error):

"First up after the news we're going to be talking to Jeremy Kunt-Hunt the culture secretary about broadband.."

As such, it was a fairly ordinary example of what the late Gail Jefferson described as a 'sound-formed error' (as too was Gordon Brown's 'saving the world' gaffe).

But, as I noted of Sarah Palin's recent North Korean 'slip of the tongue' - an example of the related 'category-formed error' - 'The trouble is ... that media commentators (and other experts) love to find deeper meaning in such errors, regardless of how they were formed. As Jefferson pointed out in her original paper, many alleged 'Freudian slips' turn out to be 'sound-formed' or 'category-formed' errors.

And on Radio 4 last Monday, it hardly took an hour for just such an expert to pop up in the very next programme, Andrew Marr's Start the Week - where one of the guests, David Aaronovich of The Times, was there to plug a series of programmes he'd made on ... er.. Freudian Slippage:

'C' , 'K', 'U' - or 'Freudian slippage'?
Although I've always been mystified by the extraordinary intellectual influence of a theory as thin on empirical backing as Freud's (unless it really is just that id, ego and superego amount to a particularly impressive example of the persuasive power of three-part lists), there's one thing about all the reports I've read about Mr Naughtie's gaffe that makes me wonder whether there might be more to all that sexual gobbledygook than I'd thought.

After all, everything I've seen about the story in the media refers to the four-letter word in question as C*** and not, as I did in my transcript above, as Kunt.

Could this, I wonder, along with the coughing and sniggering to be heard in the two audio clips, be firmer evidence of 'Freudian slippage' than anything said by Mr Naughtie last Monday morning?

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