Famous Freudian Slips Explained

3 min read

“A Freudian slip is saying one thing when you mean your mother.” — A beloved psychology joke.

From political gaffes to television comedies, Freudian slips happen every day. The technical term for this phenomenon is “parapraxis,” which can best be described as a linguistic error (either verbal or written) that expresses unconscious feelings, beliefs, or impulses. Also called a “slip of the tongue,” these mistakes are named after Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis (the analysis and treatment of emotional disorders). Usually, these slips are harmless and can be attributed to things like tiredness or being distracted. They happen all the time, like when a child calls their teacher “mom” or when a parent calls their child by a sibling’s name.

Other occurrences of parapraxis, such as the ones Freud studied, are a result of unconscious influences. Some can be deeply rooted, usually in desire, which is what Freud was most interested in. A common example is calling a current partner by an ex’s name. Freud first detailed these slips in his 1901 book, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, where he referred to them as Fehlleistungen (German for “faulty actions”).

More research has been done on Freudian slips over the past century, some aiming to debunk Freud’s beliefs. Experts have yet to collect conclusive evidence that Freudian slips are a direct result of unconscious thoughts, but the topic is still up for debate. In the meantime, pop culture is full of notable examples of Freudian slips that lead to great comedic effect

The One With Ross’s Wedding

One of the most famous Freudian slips in television history happened during season four of the hit sitcom Friends. In the 1998 episode, “The One With Ross’s Wedding, Part 2,” Ross (played by David Schwimmer) demonstrates a familiar Freudian slip: accidentally using an ex-partner's name for a current partner. At the altar, Ross says, “I take thee, Rachel” instead of Emily, the name of his wife-to-be. He does this after Rachel’s appearance at the ceremony takes him by surprise — a perfect example of subconscious thoughts causing a major fiasco.

Ross’s famous line came about thanks to a real slip of the tongue by Schwimmer when he genuinely mixed up the names “Rachel” and “Emily” during an earlier episode’s rehearsal. The producers loved it so much that they decided to use the mix-up as the storyline for the future wedding scene.

Meryl Streep Would Like to “Spank…”

During the 2003 British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA), famed actress Meryl Streep took to the stage to accept an award on behalf of Charlie Kaufman, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for Adaption. As Streep read the amusing speech that Kaufman sent to her, she accidentally said, “I would like to spank,” rather than “thank.” The audience roared with laughter as Streep paused and covered her mouth. She went on and fixed her mistake, obviously slightly embarrassed but also seeing the humor in the situation.

Raising Money for the Rich

Former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron made an unfortunate gaffe during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in 2012 when asked about taxation. Cameron explained that the Tories (a British political party nickname) were busy “raising more money for the rich.” Cameron meant to say “for the poor,” but British tabloids poked fun at the slip.

Titanic: Leo’s Real-Life Slip Up

Can you guess what line from Titanic was a real slip of the tongue by Leonardo DiCaprio? During the filming of the famous nude drawing scene, Jack (played by DiCaprio), made an awkward mistake with Rose (Kate Winslet). The already tense scene must have gotten to DiCaprio’s head, because instead of directing her to the couch, he said, “over on the bed.” He quickly corrected himself by saying, “the couch,” but the line was so good that the producers kept it in the movie. While the actors claim there has never been anything romantic between them, perhaps DiCaprio’s Freudian slip hinted at what could have been.

Ted Kennedy’s Breast … Best Faux Pas

Politicians are famous for on-air fumbles. While many of these word mix-ups are too inappropriate to repeat, one of the more famous political slip-ups came in 1991 during Senator Ted Kennedy’s televised speech. The senator said, “Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breast… the best and the brightest.” Obviously, the senator meant “best,” but anyone can fall victim to those pesky Freudian slips.

Austin Powers in Goldmember

The Austin Powers film franchise delighted audiences with its witty writing and off-the-wall antics involving Austin Powers and Dr. Evil (both played by Mike Myers). During a scene in Austin Powers in Goldmember, Dr. Evil notices that everything Powers does is aimed at gaining his father’s approval. After Dr. Evil points this out, Austin Power’s lines keep referring to his father. "Nothing could be my father from the truth!" and "No I dadn't!" Powers hilariously exclaims.

Featured image credit: izusek/ iStock

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