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Memory slums
The other day, after singing a song by Cyril Tawney, I confidently attributed it to Ewan MacColl.  Yesterday, reading an article on Camus with increasing puzzlement, I found that I had him mixed up with Sartre.  Those are among the many pairs & triples of nouns that seem to occupy the same slot in my memory, so that unless I am careful I will retrieve the wrong one.  Over the last few years I have compiled a list, ~/p/Memory_Slums:

Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease
Amazon, Ebay
André Gide, André Malraux
Barry Finn, Shay Walker
Bill Staines, Stan Rogers
Birth of a Nation, Gone with the Wind
Bob Blue, Fred Small
butane, propane
Camus, Sartre
Ceylon, Madagascar
Cole Porter, Noel Coward
Cyprus, Malta
Cyril Tawney, Ewan MacColl
eclair, napoleon
Edna St Vincent Millay, Elinor Wylie
Figaro, Tivoli
George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin
Iraq, Pakistan
Jack London, John Reed
Jane Fonda, Joan Didion
J. D. Salinger, John Updike
Jean Ritchie, Margaret MacArthur, Peggy Seeger
John Betjeman, Philip Larkin
Manitoba, Saskatchewan
Max Eastman, Max Lerner
Peter Drucker, Peter Viereck
Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton
Steve Allen, Woody Allen
The Naked and the Dead, From Here to Eternity
Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn

It is no surprise that most of the entries are proper nouns.  I have always had trouble with them.  The human race, in particular, walks around in a private fog of mine.

It seems to be getting worse.  I anticipate the day Fred Allen gets stirred into the pot with Steve & Woody.

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I could make my own list like this, but it would require weeks of observation. Here's a generic pair, though: "commercial" [in the sense of "advertisement"] and "cartoon". I don't know why, but I've been mixing those up for at least two decades.

When I was little, I thought I would never pick up on "cartoon", "harpoon", and "pontoon", but somehow I managed.

ISTM that it's not the words/names/titles per se that youwe're mixing up, but the entities they attach to. If yours is like mine, you wouldn't hear a recording of Jean Ritchie and say it was Peggy Seeger. Yes, some of the sets are similar in name – e.g., George & Ira Gershwin, Maxes Eastman & Lerner, Peters Drucker & Viereck – but many of them are similar in characterization (as well): eclair & napoleon (both pastries similar thus&so), Steve & Woody Allen (both comics + the same last name).

Actually, it's a mixture of semantics & prosody. Ritchie, MacArthur, & Seeger are all women, pretty much in the same generation, who sing a lot of songs I like. Their names don't resemble each other. Most of the time when I hear one of them, it's because I put her on, so of course I know which one she is; but I might well come up with a mistaken name if I heard one of them out of the blue. In the case of the Allens, ignorance contributes to the haze: I am not much interested in either of them. (Fred Allen belongs to another world, that of my childhood, so it's unlikely that I'll ever mix him in.) Figaro & Tivoli are both foreign names I seldom need, with 3 open syllables in a row.

Well analyzed.

Edited at 2013-10-26 04:23 am (UTC)

Do you mind if I reference this post in a posting to linguaphiles? I'd like to see what "memory slums" other people suffer from.

(Just thought of another today: "Florida" and "California".)

Sure, go ahead. I'll have to have a look at Linguaphiles.

Stockport and Southport

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