You know that moment when you’re in mid-conversation and can’t come up with the word you want to use? Later, it shows up in your consciousness, though it’s no longer relevant. Researchers call this the “tip of the tongue state.” It’s more or less universal and—good news—it is not a sign of dementia or Alzheimer’s.
“You can’t talk to anybody, in any culture, in any language, in any age group, that doesn’t know what you’re talking about” when you describe this state, Lise Abrams, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who’s studied the phenomenon for 20 years, told The New York Times. There are even occurrences among sign language users (called tip-of-the-finger states).
We’re more likely to blank on words we use less frequently, and a common category of “tip of the tongue” words is proper names. “…One reason might be that proper names are arbitrary links to the people they represent, so people with the same name don’t possess the same semantic information the way that common nouns do,” Abrams said.
The bad news is there’s not a whole lot we can do in the moment to jog our memory. But using certain words or names more often can make us less likely to forget. So if you can never seem to remember the name of your neighbor or co-worker down the hall, try saying their names out loud whenever you can (Tweet it!). Doing so might save you an awkward encounter.
What methods do you use for recalling names? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.