If I remember correctly from the half year I studied linguistics, there is a sort of official name for the situation or state your brain (or your speech center) is in when a word is at the tip of your tongue but you can't quite think of what it was again.

What was that term again?

  • I'm not sure if it's a linguistic question. I think it's more about psychology, and I think you'll get a better response in english.stackexchange.com
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 16:29
  • There might be a term in a field such as psycholinguistics. I'm not a linguist so it's too hard for me to judge whether this is or isn't a linguistics question. But whether or it's on-topic here or not it is definitely on-topic on english.SE Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 18:10
  • 4
    This belongs to psycholinguistics (I edited the tag, I'll edit the tag wiki too). It's not a pure field, but still has something of linguistics. We can see this too on meta in the future when defining the scope. But again, what site will treat the linguistic aspect if not this one?
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 18:39
  • I think, it was asked in a one million peso question in Game Ka Na Ba? (Philippines) hosted by Kris Aquino. I'm not sure but i think she did ask it.
    – user9261
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 6:53

3 Answers 3


There are multiple words for the phenomenon you are speaking of.

  • tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) is the actual used term for the moment at which the subject has the specific difficulty, or more technically presque vu ('almost seem').

  • dysnomia is the term for the general chronic difficulty in retrieving vocabulary items. A more common but inclusive term is aphasia which is for any kind of impairment of language though often used for retrieval difficulties.

  • 1
    I wanted to point something out: Dysnomia and aphasia are actually terms defining the linguistic disorders. If I have difficulty retrieving a word, it doesn't necessarily mean I have dysnomia (unless I'm affected by that disability, of course).
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 20:28
  • @Alenanno: right, I hope I made that clear, that TOT is for an instance, and dysnomia/aphasia is for chronic issues. And also, if you having TOT all the time (or 'senior' moments) all the time, it's is unlikely it is a sign of actual organic dysfunction which would be diagnosed as aphasia, but rather that you have too much otherwise on your mind.
    – Mitch
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 20:34
  • Yes, I commented because it didn't seem clear-cut in your answer, I imagined you knew it. :)
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 2, 2011 at 20:48
  • presque vu was indeed what I was looking for, thanks!
    – Zsub
    Commented Oct 3, 2011 at 9:24
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    @Mitch I'm a speech/language therapist by profession. You're right about the application of "aphasia" to word-retrieval difficulties, but I should point out that aphasia is considered mild if dysnomia is the patient's only problem. "Moderate to severe aphasia" describes not just dysnomia but also difficulties with using morphology & syntax OR difficulties pairing symbols with meanings. Global aphasia is the term for the inability to communicate in a language. (FYI, this differs from dementia in that global aphasics can do well on non-verbal tests of intelligence.) Commented Apr 15, 2012 at 17:19

This is one of the phenomena that are studied a lot by experts, along with other facts, under many points of view. The one we are interested in is psycholinguistics, that is an interdisciplinary field between neuropsychology, cognitive psychology and linguistics.

This phenomenon where people seem to temporarily forget a certain word, is normal and occurs to everyone at least once in a life. The common expression is tip-of-the-tongue, but the terminology adopted by psycholinguists seems to be simply TOT.

If you want to go more in depth you can read Sparkling at the end of the tongue: The etiology of tip-of-the-tongue phenomenology by Bennett L. Schwartz.


Lethologica - In other words, when you have the word on the tip of the tongue but you keep losing it and can't quite grab hold of it.

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