A few days ago, 69-year-old Richard Lombard told me that as he left his home on a foggy Sunday morning, he wondered for a moment why the construction across the way was wrapped in Tylenol.
Of course the name on the wrap was the well-known Tyvek but his brain had briefly substituted a brand of acetaminophen. Richard theorized that the heavy fog and having just wakened from a confusing dream caused the glitch but I'm not so sure.
My reason is that my brain has been substituting similar-looking, unrelated, words for what's really there fairly frequently for several years.
It happens to me a lot when I'm reading but also when I'm writing so I've learned to be extra careful with blog posts and emails.
I catch such errors (when I do; it's not a hundred percent) because the context is usually as weird (and, sometimes, funny) as Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek. A house wrapped in a lot of little white pills is an image not easily ignored.
LATER INSERT: In the second paragraph above, I initially typed the phrase “heavy fork” instead of “heavy fog.” I didn't catch it until about the third read-through and it can't be dismissed as a simple typo. God, tog, jog, hog, fob, among others, are plausible typos in that instance. With “fork” something else is at work.
What I know in a lifetime of writing for a living is that this kind of mistake didn't happen in my youth and middle years. It's new-ish, a couple of years, maybe three or four.
Sometimes I wonder if it is related to the problem of opposites I have dealt with all my life - things involving black/white, yes/no, up/down, left/right. A real-life example:
At my last job, I was a member of a committee of six or seven people, each representing a different department or area of expertise, assigned to research and decide if we should move forward with a several million dollar project.
Many months of work later, we met to make our decision. After final presentations and discussion, the vote was taken and when I returned to my desk, I couldn't recall if it was yes or no.
This wasn't new to me. It's not uncommon that I can't remember the choice even two or three minutes after the fact. As a result I am a prodigious note-taker.
What I am not, however, is a psychologist, a neurologist, a specialist in linguistics or any other kind of expert in the behavior and pathology of the brain. I am so ignorant of these disciplines that I have no business doubting that Richard's Tylenol/Tyvek language lapse is related, as he guesses, to fog or dreams.
Still, I think there may be something more or different to it.
Growing old is time consuming. Just when we arrive at a period in our lives when we haven't all that much time left, our minds and bodies conspire to eat up way too much of that time. Our movement slows, we tire more easily and our brains slow down leaving us staring mutely into space over a name or simple little word we've known all our lives.
Doesn't seem fair, does it, adding yet another thing to the list that steals time from us – although it is fair to say that it's hardly a big deal in life; just interesting, a small puzzle.
It wouldn't take too much proof to convince me that these word substitutions are unrelated to age, that they are nothing more than carelessness or reading too quickly. But it doesn't quite feel like that to me.
Does any of this click with readers out there?