black and white, photography

You are looking for the “right” word.

For a paper, an article, a story, a blog post, a presentation – – you’re trying to express a intense moment, a feeling, an emotion.

Words, sentences, paragraphs, a continuous stream flowing…your back and forth rhythm now rudely interrupted. You have hit The Wall. You can’t climb over without the Word.

It’s right there. On the tip of your tongue. Your mind is searching. You feel the Word. It’s Sizzling, Searing. The perfect Word to capture the moment, the feeling.

Yet, you come up Empty.

Your frustration grows. You use a substitute. You re-read the passage again, and again. The Word doesn’t fit. It doesn’t feel right. It’s an impostor. You go with it anyway. And it hangs, like an ill-fitting jacket or pair of oversized shoes.

Suppose we try to recall a forgotten name. The state of our consciousness is peculiar. There is a gap therein; but no mere gap. It is a gap that is intensely active. A sort of wraith of the name is in it, beckoning us in a given direction, making us at moments tingle with the sense of our closeness, and then letting us sink back without the longed-for term. If wrong names are proposed to us, this singularly definite gap acts immediately so as to negate them. They do not fit into its mould. And the gap of one word does not feel like the gap of another, all empty of content as both might seem necessarily to be when described as gaps. . . . The rhythm of a lost word may be there without a sound to clothe it; or the evanescent sense of something which is the initial vowel or consonant may mock us fitfully, without growing more distinct. Every one must know the tantalizing effect of the blank rhythm of some forgotten  verse, restlessly dancing in one’s mind, striving to be filling out with words.

William James, 1890

And, then you read a poem that captures this, all of this.


She’s gone and done it.

Where is the word I want?

in the thicket,
about to pinch the dangling berry,
my fingerpads close on air.

I can hear it
scrabbling like a squirrel
on the oak’s far side.

please send over this black stretch of ocean
your singular flare,
blaze your topaz in the mind’s blank.

I could always pull the gift
from the lucky-dip barrel,
scoop the right jewel
from my dragon’s trove….

Now I flail,
the wrong item creaks up
on the mental dumbwaiter.
No use—
it’s turning out of sight,
a bicycle down a Venetian alley—
I clatter after,
only to find
gondolas bobbing in sunny silence,
a pigeon mumbling something
I just can’t catch.”

Elise Partridge, “Chemo Side Effects: Memory” from Chameleon Hours.  (via literarymiscellany)


  1. yes, i have felt this, and done this. it is a feel, an instinct, a search for just the right fit. and she has said it perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s so much to this Dave – the way you articulate the increasing frustration we feel when truly ‘at a loss for word[s]’, I could feel my heartbeat faster, the self-recriminations on the rise…and then you add Elisa Partridge and her ‘lucky dip barrel’ (yes!!) and I’m totally in one of those moments when I’m not able to say what I want to say. So I leave it with ‘fantastic’ and shake my head, ’cause it isn’t the adjective I wanted.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I feel so frustrated when this happens and always thought it was something wrong with my brain. The more i substitute in those circumstances, the more the word evades me. This post captures the feeling perfectly. As they say in England, mind the gap. Or, rather, don’t mind!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It gets worse with every year that passes. Sometimes I resort to the Thesaurus just to find a similar word that triggers the forgotten one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It has gotten worse every year Sarah. I’m rationalizing this with information overload and not aging or something worse.


      • I don’t think it’s anything worse than having less stamina as one gets older and not always allowing oneself to let up. An example of this is that there’s a giant crossword Mister and I assault together with our combined brain power every weekend. Last night, I could only manage two clues. But early this morning, with my brain refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I had this surge of intelligence that resulted in only three clues left for Mister to do.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Love the poem. And with the world being so politically correct/sensitive, sometimes the right word isn’t the right word anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love both of these, but especially the image of the wraith of the word haunting the gap.
    This experience used to really bug me, but now I don’t dwell on it–that search. I figure it’s my cue to spin what I’m writing on its head and say it another way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post so much. And I adore the line: the wrong item creaks up
    on the mental dumbwaiter. So so evocative. You hit a nerve for sure with your recognition that we can ‘feel’ the word….

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Equally as fascinating, minus the frustration of absence of course, is when the word finally pops into view, always when you least expect it! Talk about feeling toyed with! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on sherriemiranda1 and commented:
    Have you had this happen to you? I have, esp. recently after going under anesthesia. (and right now as I try to spell this word and for once, the one time I need it, autocorrect doesn’t help me. Got it, but had to look it up.)

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yes, I get this too! Sometimes I just have to put it away for a while and come back to it. Another hour, another day, and it can all look so different. And then I think “why didn’t I write that in the first place?!!” 🙂


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