Jeremy Laurance: Forget Spooner, this was all about Freud

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Linguistics boffins might insist James Naughtie's verbal slip was a spoonerism that occurred thanks to the easy exchange of the C for Culture with the H for Hunt. But analyse any conversation and you will find a dozen similar possibilities. Why did Naughtie make precisely this slip at this moment to cause himself and the nation maximum embarrassment (or hilarity, depending on your sensitivity)?

Strictly speaking, this was not a Spoonerism, as defined by the Rev William Archibald Spooner, rather it was a verbal slip of the kind used by Freud himself to defend his theory of parapraxes against the naysayers unable to tolerate his suggestion that our unconscious wishes might intrude into our conscious deliberations, sometimes in embarrassing ways.

You do not need to be a psychoanalyst to offer an explanation. Today presenters engage daily in verbal combat with politicians, cutting through the dissembling to shed light on some corner of government policy. It would hardly be surprising to discover their true feelings about their interlocutors are not as polite as they appear.

Freud's view was that every slip was the disguised expression of a wish. Naughtie unconsciously employed a sexual expression to dismiss his interviewee. Locked in the Today studio while most of the nation lay warm in bed, he may have been wishing he was somewhere else altogether.

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