Rhodri Marsden: 'Commonplace words can have conscious-altering power over us'

Life on Marsden

Share
Related Topics

Some words can go weird. A few days ago I found myself staring at the word "house" and it lost all its meaning. My brain struggled to process it. God knows how estate agents manage.

Rather than conjuring up an image of a cute building with chimney, it provoked an alarming semantic crisis. I started doubting my own existence – and when letters of the alphabet start affecting you in this way, your impulse is to make an appointment to see your GP. Not that they'd appreciate you sitting in their surgery and describing how the word "house" is freaking you out, when they've just referred a tearful couple to an oncology clinic.

So I sought solace on social media instead. Betsy told of her mother who "once stared at the word 'pink' so long that she became convinced she'd just made it up". Jules, meanwhile, has a problem with "cow". "I have to skim read it every time," she says, "or I get caught gazing at it for hours and feel odd." Words as commonplace as box, twelve, sport, from and does were all identified by friends as having consciousness-altering powers. "It's called jamais-vu," advised Amy-Mae, knowledgably, so I looked it up.

Apparently a cognitive neuropsychology lecturer by the name of Chris Moulin tested the phenomenon in a brutal experiment where people were asked to write the word "door" 30 times in 60 seconds. Well over half reported feelings of, shall we way, door-weirdness.

This particular variety of brain-wrong is a symptom of overfamiliarity, where repetition of information causes anguish. Recently I've been experiencing this in another form, where endlessly spiralling thought processes drive me very mildly nuts. Fortunately I have a wise friend called Sarah, who offered some soothing advice. "Pretend it's stuff that doesn't matter," she said. "Take all your thoughts and feelings about everything – including how you think and feel – and let it be as it is. Just say, 'That's fine'. And then, if you think 'But it's not fine!', answer that with: 'It's also fine to think that it's not fine'.

After a while you knacker yourself out, and that's when the sane truth of things starts to appear." I'm now about to use this strategy to find out the true meaning of the word "house". If I find out, you'll be the first to know.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Head of Offshore Operations & Interfaces

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Engineering Design Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Abd Mubin Rahim of Malaysia falls to the floor after an unsuccessful lift during the Men's Weightlifting  

Usain Bolt was right about the Commonwealth Games, but we shouldn't blame the organisers

Teddy Cutler
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices