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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Brain Mix Ups

Awhile back I talked about how hard it is to learn a new language. So now I have another question. Why, when I try to think of the Spanish word for something do I find a long-forgotten German word on the tip of my tongue?

 It would make sense in a way if French or some other romance language popped in my brain, if I’d studied French, and if the French and Spanish words were similar. But none of that is the case. I didn't study French, a similar word does not pop in my brain, and the German and Spanish words are nothing alike: compare “Perdon, por favor” with “Enshulegen Sie, Bitte”. Nothing alike. And yet, for some strange reason, studying Spanish is helping me recall the German I studied a lifetime ago.

It’s a lot like when I try to recall the name of an actor. Another actor’s name will pop up. Compare Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. They really only have a few things in common. They were contemporaries:  Cooper was born in 1901; Grant in 1904. Both were good actors.  

They don’t have similar names, though in a pinch one might try to rhyme their first names. Their appearances and styles were quite different. Cooper was the essential cowboy type--strong, silent, and comfortable on a horse, in the outdoors and shooting a gun. Grant was known as debonair and sophisticated. Screwball comedies, and con jobs were more his style. One thing they had in common--both shared the screen with some stunning leading ladies. Think Ingrid Bergman in "Notorious" and Grace Kelly in "High Noon".

So why do I often retrieve one of their names when I know the other actor was in a particular film. By some obscure connection I seem to have mentally filed the two names and they stick together when I reach for that mental file. 

 Or, there is a friend (let’s call her “Mary”) and the daughter (“Marie”) of another friend (“Susan”). I know Mary and Marie and never mentally confuse their names when I think of them. They are quite clearly fixed in my brain. But when I try to say either name, the other one frequently pops up and into my mouth. Their names are both linked by Susan, whose daughter is Marie and who introduced me to Mary many years ago. 

For a reason I cannot fathom I always stumble over the names Mary and Marie as they are stored in the same verbal, brain file-folder and again the mental pages  stick together.

If you’ve ever seen the kids’ movie “Donald Duck in MathMagic Land” I think it explains some of my memory issues. In Donald’s brain there are cobwebs, unfiled stacks of papers and misfiled documents. Much like the office in which I sit at this very moment typing this essay. 

My office is a little bit of a mess. Ok, a big mess. I rationalize that the clutter helps me come up with ideas. It also helps me remember what I’ve been meaning to do with various projects that I notice as they are sitting out and about. For me, out of sight is literally out of mind.

But a lot of the clutter is because I don’t know what to do with the stuff. Some of it needs to be tossed or recycled. Some of it needs to be filed. I used to try to file the detritus of the mail I receive by subject matter. That never worked very well because when I went to locate it I couldn’t remember what topic I had filed it under. 

Now I file based on chronology. (Translated:  I put it in a box in the order in which I receive it.) So if I go to look for something I sort (Translated: "dig") through the pile based on when I think it was received. Works as well as any method I've tried.

With such a mish-mash of an office and filing system is it any wonder my mental files are in disarray? Obviously, I’ve filed “foreign words” for “excuse me” all together rather than Spanish words in one file and German words in another. If I remembered, or ever knew the Latin word for “excuse me” it would be in that folder too.

People whose names begin with “M” and who have a connection with “Susan” are all in another file folder, Just like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, forever to be pulled out when I see one or the other and try to say the name. 

I can use iTranslate, Duo Lingo and other language Apps to solve my language filing issues. If someone has invented a smart phone app that solves my mental dilemma of mixing up similar names of friends or sort-of- similar celebrities who are filed together in my brain I need it.  Maybe a facial recognition and name app that I could just download to my brain? And another that would straighten and dust my office would be nice. 



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