Little phrases.

Standard

This week.

I just put that phrase in a sentence starting, “Whereas for quite some time this week I’ve had the ideas…”

But I didn’t mean this week. I meant, this-arbitrary-measurement-of-chunk-of-time-longer-than-a-day.

I could’ve said, the past few weeks, this month, the past few days, last month… those are all phrases in my repertoire for that kind of thing, and they pop out interchangeably.

This is, I suppose, one of the hazards of using and learning language by pattern. Especially when I’m tired, I’ll know which phrases “sound right” together, and “go right” together, but it’s really, really easy to forget to check them against what I’m actually meaning. So “some kind of chunk of time” simply becomes substituted with any chunk of time. A particular topic area gets substituted with its opposite without noticing, because both are connected in some way in the pattern system in my head.

And my speech seems irreparably that way, patterns devoid of internal meaning for the most part, or only tangentially tied to it. But somehow, even though I’m clearly using the same mechanisms while typing, they seem to be tied closer to thought and experience and so forth. Except when I’m tired or hungry or sick or overloaded or something, at which point things start falling apart more.

What people will notice if they see me type, is that while I make the usual kind of typos sometimes, the most common kind of typo I make is a whole-word or whole-phrase typo. My fingers will spit out a phrase that is not the one I want and I have to delete and go over it several times to get the one I do want. I’m not talking about subtle variations, either. I’m talking about things that change the entire meaning of a sentence, but that don’t have to sound as if they’re wrong somehow.

It seems like, there’s a phrase machine somewhere in my brain, and it spits things out without my thinking about it. It spits out words, or chunks of words, according to pattern, not according to tying back to something in my head or in my experience. It does this automatically and my job is to insert the right meanings so it doesn’t veer off course somehow.

It’s very easy to get it to veer off course, too. Consider the following sentences: It seems like, there’s a phrase machine somewhere in my brain, and it spits things out, because they’re supposed to be there. It seems like, there’s a phrase machine somewhere in my brain, and it spits things out, in order. It seems like, there’s a phrase machine somewhere in my brain, and it spits things out, that are closer to one thing than another. Those sentences are all of course demonstrations of the phrase machine in action. They make sense, but they’re not necessarily what I’m trying to get at at all.

I have noticed, though, that there’s a quality to this, that I can sometimes see in other auties, when they are struggling with language, yet still appearing fluent in whatever their preferred form of language (written or spoken) is at the time. One of the first signs I see is a sense of disconnection from the words in the person making them. Even if the words are the right words, the person somehow sounds far back in their head behind their voice, as if their voice is a wall in some respects rather than a messenger. There’s a distance there, and it’s even more obvious when the person is clearly using a lot of stored phrases. I don’t know how I hear those things in other people, though, I just do.

And that is the ramble I have created on the basis of a simple-looking time error in a sentence.

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About Mel Baggs

I am a highly sensing person. I am a child of earth and water, I was born into a redwood forest and I left the forest but it never left me. I'm 34 as I wrote this. If I had an alignment like in role-playing games and MUDs, I'd be chaotic good all the way: I don't think it's possible to fill ethics into a moral code, the world is far too complex for that. I let the world be complex and chaotic and try to respond situation by situation from a small number of principles of right and wrong. My responses may seem to contradict each other, but that will be because either the situation has changed, or I have changed. I am a poet who is trying to practice more every day, hence the poetry blog. I am a cat lover and live with a wonderful elderly cat. I am a painter when I have the time, energy, and resources. I have multiple cognitive, physical, developmental, and psychiatric disabilities, and my health is not usually stable. Put all together, I'd be considered severely disabled. I get a lot of assistance throughout the day. I am a real living cyborg, part human part machine: I have a GJ feeding tube to feed me through one tube and drain my stomach through the other,, an InterStim implant for urinary retention, and a port (a permanent central IV line). I love life. I think Love (not the sentimental emotion, but the property of the world) is the most important thing that human beings can offer each other. Being near death enough times has taught me that, and has also taught me that I have no time for bullies or pettiness. I'm involved in disabilty rights and other causes that people these days would call 'social justice', but I don't consider myself part of the 'SJ community' or the 'anti-SJ community' because of that thing I said about pettiness -- they're more about one-upmanship than fixing the world. I wish they had not taken over the words 'social justice', which used to mean something else. I love talking to just ordinary people about fixing the world, they have far more realistic ideas and more likelihood of putting them into practice. I'm a Hufflepuff to the core, with some Gryffindor tendencies and even a little bit of Ravenclaw. I admire some Slytherins but I don't have much ambition or cunning at all. I still think the Slytherin common room is second best, with Hufflepuff coming first. My favorite color is brown, especially when combined with a bit of yellow or blue. My favorite music is country, and my favorite country artists are Kathy Mattea, Lacy J. Dalton, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Merle Haggard, and Loretta Lynn. I don't like most new country but i occasionally hear something on the radio I like. At an early age, my family listened to country almost exclusively to the point where I thought all the different types of country were all the different types of music! I couldn't put Lacy J. Dalton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and Kris Kristofferson in the same category. Although now that I've grown up I can hear that they are all country, but as a kid my ear was trained more for minute differences in country styles, than for recognizing country from other types of music. Country isn't all I like. Some other bands and artists I like: The Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Rasputina, Jefferson Airplane, The Beatles, Rich Mullins (I'm not Christian but some Christian music is amazing), ), The Raventones/T.R. Kelley, Planet P Project/Tony Carey, Sinead Lohan, Donna Williams, Suzanne Vega, Phideaux, and Jethro Tull, to name a few. I love the Cocteau Twins in particular because they are everything being sensing is about: Words are chosen for their sound, not their meaning, the voice becomes yet another instrument rather than a conveyor of words, raw emotion pours out of them, there are layers upon layers, and they were around for long enough there's lots of their music in a variety of different styles -- including their later stuff where the words have more meaning than just sounds. Each period in their music has its benefits and drawbacks but I love them all, or nearly so. Their music comes as close as any music can come to conveying how I experience the world, as what Donna Williams calls 'pattern, form, and feel'. And Elizabeth Fraser has a beautiful voice, I once had a teenage crush on her. As I type this, I have a cat sitting on my shoulder, cheek to cheek with me, peering around and occasionally rubbing me. My relationship to her goes back 15 years to when she was six months old, and we've rarely been parted since. It's been an honor to watch her grow into a wise but crotchety old lady cat. She knows she's technically older than me and tells me so sometimes, especially during arguments. She has trouble with the fact that there are parts of the human world I know better than she does. She sees me as her big, dumb kitten who needs protecting, and is beside herself with worry if I end up in the hospital (which seems to happen frequently these days). I don't experience myself as having a gender identity, I call it being genderless. You'll sometimes see the pronouns sie and hir in my work, they are gender-neutral pronouns pronounced 'see' and 'hear'. I was raised female, which gives me both disadvantages (outside the trans community) and advantages (inside the trans community). You don't have to remember my pronouns, lots of people have trouble with gender-neutral pronouns. I won't be upset with you. People make mistakes, and some people just can't get the hang of new words, and that's okay. I have vocabulary problems myself (mostly comprehension), I'm not going to penalize other people for having vocabulary problems of their own. Right now my father is dying of cancer that's metastatized so many places they can't figure out where it started, my mother has severe myasthenia gravis that can land her in the ICU (and she's my father's primary caretaker), my "second mother" (who took over when I grew up and my family didn't know how to prepare me for the world) has endometrial cancer, and my cat is getting old. All of this is bringing death to the forefront of my mind and my poetry. In fact I think I've been able to write more poetry because of all the feelings about so many people dying or with precarious health. It was easier to handle when it was me that was going to die (averted by diagnosis and treatment of severe adrenal insufficiency that'd been going on for years). It's harder when it's someone else, someone you love. My other hobby is crocheting, and a lot of the time if I'm not writing, it'll be hard to find me without a crochet hook or occasional knitting needles in my hands. I love to be able to make things. I have been making hats and scarves with spare yarn (which I have a lot of), and putting them in City Hall Park wrapped in plastic, with notes saying "If you're cold, take this." I know what it's like to be cold in the winter, and if anyone takes them and stays warm I'd be overjoyed. You may have noticed I'm long-winded. This is actually the result of a language disability that makes it difficult for me to leave out details, to see two almost-identical things as perhaps something that doesn't need repeating, and to summarize or condense down my writing. I know this is a flaw in my writing, and it even prevents me from reading it sometimes, but I've found no solutions. Sometimes on my longer posts I'll put a "TL;DR" ("too long; didn''t read") summary at the end in bold letters for people to skip down to.. But even those don't feel adequate, even when I can do theme, which is not always. I think I'm getting better though. Learning haiku and other short poetry forms helps me condense my words better. Anyway, I hope that gives you enough idea of who I am. At my most basic, I care about Love more than anything (whenever I come near enough to death, I feel like I get asked the question "Did you Love, and did you express that Love properly?"), but like everyone I get sidetracked into things that are much less important. I try to make my writing an expression of Love. Sometimes I succeed.

30 responses »

  1. The amount of times I have the impression of what I’m trying to convey, but still can’t get it out is very high. I’ve been told I belabour a point, but it’s more to do with the fact that until I feel I’ve got the right meaning out, then I haven’t put my point across.
    I have set phrases as well, used frequently (but not exclusively) throughout the days. Some of these are:
    “It’s one of the mysteries of life.”
    “Who can say?”
    “It’s not the end of the world.”

  2. Yeah, I’m told a belabor a point as well (though I do it with one fewer vowel, here on this side of the pond! :P), and I think it does have quite a lot to do with having already used phrases that sound like perfectly acceptable phrases; and then it coming across afterward (funny; I just replaced “from there on out” with afterward ’cause “from there on out” wasn’t quite right) like I’m just reiterating, when what I’m attempting to do is re-phrase for accuracy.

    And yes, I know exactly that “far-away” kind of tone people take on when they’re using canned phrases. And I believe NT folks do it just as often, though the two people I’m thinking of right now who I specifically recall doing that are certainly not NT.

  3. You say: “though I’m clearly using the same mechanisms while typing” when referring to your speech. I wonder if you are, though? I think one of the standard assumptions about language–that clearly is true for neurotypical people–is that meaning gets assigned to oral language and that the brain later “maps” those oral sounds/meanings onto the part of the brain that attaches meaning to visual symbols (alphabet, signs, etc.). But I’m not convinced that it works that way for hyperlexics (maybe not for any autism spectrum), as hyperlexics’ main “quirk” is that often oral language doesn’t even start to emerge until we have already “mapped” the visual symbols. The auditory processing stuff definitely comes along later. And possibly it isn’t even processed in the same part of the brain that normally processes such stuff. I know that, for my son (who is diagnosed both autistic and hyperlexic) the speech patterns, particularly when he is tired and stressed, are similar to what you describe. But the degree of disorganization for visual stuff isn’t nearly as extreme. And for me (I generally communicate verbally quite well), under extreme stress and exhaustion, I get almost tourette’s-like verbalizations (usually muttered, fortunately) sometimes. Doesn’t affect my ability to write coherently, though. Anyway, interesting ramble! Got me to thinking this morning…

  4. What immediately struck me reading this entry is that different cultures around the world, particularly in the past, had very different ways of describing time events, which reflected different ways of experiencing them, or rather a different kind of importance given to them. I don’t remember the details as I read a book about it years and years ago.

    A different point to the one you’re making, it just struck me as potentially interesting.

  5. in spanish we say “ocho días” (eight days) or “quince días” (15 days) to mean one week and two weeks. that always bothered me.

  6. I have noticed, though, that there’s a quality to this, that I can sometimes see in other auties, when they are struggling with language, yet still appearing fluent in whatever their preferred form of language (written or spoken) is at the time. One of the first signs I see is a sense of disconnection from the words in the person making them. Even if the words are the right words, the person somehow sounds far back in their head behind their voice, as if their voice is a wall in some respects rather than a messenger. There’s a distance there, and it’s even more obvious when the person is clearly using a lot of stored phrases. I don’t know how I hear those things in other people, though, I just do.

    I have a similar reaction to what I think is the same event you’re describing. I think their voice is just being ‘nasal.’ The only person I really get this from is a person who has significant emotional issues and has a problem with nose-picking (and stimming, which is really interesting since his dad is an undiagnosed Aspie.)

    On a related note, I have noticed tonal differences in sound quality watching television, particularly live television. I have a somewhat peculiar (and occasionally electrical?) relationship with television – particularly digital signals. It’s an untested hypothesis, though.

  7. n:

    1: Whole of Sunday
    2: Whole of Monday
    3: Whole of Tuesday
    4: Whole of Wednesday.
    5: Whole of Thursday.
    6: Whole of Friday.
    7 Whole of Saturday.
    8: Whole of Sunday.

    Then start the next week on Monday. Of course, that does mean the start day of the week keeps changing, but it sort of makes sense.

  8. hi
    i have done that many times
    one thing i often do (and have to catch myself) is pick random numbers for amounts when the numbers aren’t too important
    this is offputting to others when i say things like
    “i haven’t seen her in 80 years”
    or “a 75 lb kid definitely can’t catch a… 4000 lb adult”
    i have been able to work on this over the years because i got sick of people laughing at my mistakes
    yet another thing you’re the first person i know of to identify

  9. noah,

    Some people may be laughing thinking you are doing this facetiously, as a joke. Sometimes I’ll say things like “With this new job I only have to work about 46,000 a week to pay rent” just to add a funny element to what I’m saying.

  10. Ya gotta learn to use different scripts, Ma’am!

    I recommend phrases like “just recently” and “the other day” and “sometime in the last few days” and
    “I don’t remember when exactly, but it was not long ago.”

    It’s OK to be vague and general when writing about that kind of thing, IMHO.

    Most people don’t seem to care about exact dates, or exact anything.

  11. For what you’re trying to do with this blog, I see your searching for the right words as a completely normal NT situation, because you are trying to talk about extremely complicated concepts and ideas.

    Everyday conversational language is primarily about generalizing. Most speaking people are too lazy to even enunciate the words they speak in the correct way, while small talk is a way of passing the time with a stranger without really communicating anything at all. A great deal of what people talk about for fun or in social groups is just unoriginal parroting of something they heard or read from somewhere else, so it doesn’t take much effort to find the words to talk about the subject.

    Your writing is more like what a scientist would write when researching something new and original. Since this writing is extremely precise, sometimes it just takes a while to find the right words that properly express what you’re trying to communicate, and that is normal.

  12. Javik, once you show me a “normal” person who cannot carry on a conversation orally because virtually none of what they say matches up at all to what they mean (in any context), I’ll believe you that what I’m experiencing is “normal”.

    Until then, I’m likely to conclude that this is yet another instance of what Lady Bracknell was talking about when she pointed out that all the things disabled people experience (in terms of what our bodies experience) are exaggerated versions of things that non-disabled people experience from time to time, and thus non-disabled people can fool themselves into thinking they know what we’re talking about.

    And I think in this case there are also qualitative differences, not just quantitative ones, that people are ignoring (and nothing I say about this is confined in any way to writing, or to new or original ideas, or to only one kind of conversation).

  13. My ability to recall words is mostly good, if I don’t feel I’ve explained myself as I should I mostly feel as though I’m getting there. Sometimes, however, I will substitute a word that makes no sense at all in the context of the situation. For example, I’ll say something like “Tom went swimming with his nursery class today and he caught the giraffe” when what I mean to say is “Tom went swimming yesterday and played with a beach ball”.

  14. Hey, Amanda — this is unrelated, but I’m looking for an older post of yours, and seem to have misplaced the “Search” feature on your site. It’s the one called, I believe, “Compulsions, Reverse Compulsions, and Even Weirder”. Or something. Got it handy?

  15. Until then, I’m likely to conclude that this is yet another instance of what Lady Bracknell was talking about when she pointed out that all the things disabled people experience (in terms of what our bodies experience) are exaggerated versions of things that non-disabled people experience from time to time, and thus non-disabled people can fool themselves into thinking they know what we’re talking about.

    I think that’s very true, but I also think that’s how those of us without the particular disability try to gain understanding of what it’s like to have that condition. I realize I probably do that a lot, and hope it doesn’t come across as patronizing or dismissive.

    I have a friend with fairly severe schizophrenia, and when he’s in a bad state, most people would consider a lot of what he says to be pure paranoid gibberish. I find I can see a distinct pattern in what he says in those states, it makes sense metaphorically, and it’s often a very exaggurated version of the mental processes we all go through. I wouldn’t for a moment claim that I know what he is experiencing, or what it’s like to have his thoughts and his condition, but seeing those common threads is probably part of why I can relate to him even when he’s being “crazy”, in a way many other people can’t.

  16. oh yeah. My speech is alot like that, generally. And I find it very frustrating most of the time, because I rarely am able to say what I really mean, at least not when I’m trying to use verbal speech.

  17. Amanda: About that last paragraph again. I hope you read this. I definitely know what you’re talking about, but I never get this in person with anyone else. I only hear that disconnect when I’m watching television. I have no idea why, and at this point I’m not sure it’s wise for me to guess.

    It’s a very real phenomenon though, for me. For others watching TV, I wonder if they just think the audio has dropped out, or if they experience that at all.

    Perhaps it’s because I only have AS that I only hear it from the television. Dunno. Interesting nonetheless.

  18. I do this all the time. I am famous among family and friends for saying “last year” when I meant “last week” or “yesterday”. Partly I think it is because much of my speech is derived from patterns I have observed in the language, and so substitutions do not always make sense. In fact, what drew me to creative writing was the structuring of sentences so that they would sound nice, have an appropriate “ring” to them; it was not until I was perhaps 13 that I became interested in conveying meaningfully within the text itself.

  19. happens here too……especially if I am not fully attentive to a conversation…….words just come out and I might not hear myself until 10 seconds later, or someone looks at me….and I’ll be like……huh? what did I just say? No I didn’t mean THAT, or something along those lines……….

    I’m freaking out a bit because I might have fed my cat something I shouldn’t have. When I was out shopping I temporarily forgot about all the foods on the recall list……fortunately I only fed one can of it. I’m gonna ask my dad what to do……….

    TI

  20. Update to my last post: Dad told me not to worry too much. I just won’t feed him any of the other cans I have. I was just silly not to think about the recall stuff before buying those cans……..it had been quite a while since I’d heard anything about that.

    So all is okay for now……

    TI

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