I relish a good Freudian slip – that revealing giveaway of the tongue

Sigmund Freud has his fans and his detractors. My take? A lot of his work was pioneering and has relevance to this day; a lot of it was nonsense.

One of Freud’s greatest legacies (no, not the scatology obsession) is the one that bears his name: the Freudian slip. (Or parapraxis, to give it its other name.) When Freud started word association with his patients, he realised that often their immediate answers would reveal things about themselves that they had repressed or were on their mind, lingering beneath the surface.

The Freudian slip has slowly become a term for a general gaffe or example of misspeaking, but the true joy is in its original form: the id poking through. Freud developed a thorough personality theory related to these slips (whether of memory, or speech, or physical impulse) often to do with shame or primal desires. But at minor level they reveal a subconscious thought, or longing, or truth, exposing itself through language. The giveaway of the tongue.

For instance, when the former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini said how much he enjoyed being in charge at Manchester United. (City was not yet the dominating club it is today.) Or the account I read about a graduate student whose tutor, Miss Terell, made her pull out all of the staples on a 45-page document and redo them at a slightly different angle. She handed the document back to… “Miss Terrible”.

One of the strongest in recent memory was David Cameron’s reply to an Ed Miliband question on tax during PMQs. The Tories, Cameron said, were busy “raising money for the rich”. At least he was – unintentionally – honest.

During the peak of the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s unpopularity, quite a few broadcasters accidentally referred to him on air as Jeremy… something that rhymes with Hunt. Sticking to former politicians, I have no idea whether Condoleezza Rice harboured a secret crush on George Bush, but she did have to correct herself once when she referred to him as her husband. Even if the person insists there is nothing in it, the slips are still amusing and offer an opportunity for much ribbing.

I leave you with an old, but wonderful, joke, beloved of psychology students everywhere: “A Freudian slip is saying one thing when you mean your mother.”