Tuesday, December 1, 2009


So, there's this thing that happens to the brain of a pregnant woman. Because her body is supporting another human being, some of the blood that was used for cognitive function has to be re-routed to the placenta to help nourish the fetus. The result is what some call "pregnant brain" or "placenta brain": forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, difficulty forming coherent sentences, etc. I hear that not everyone experiences this, and maybe some don't have it as badly as I do, but I certainly have pregnant brain.

It's a humbling experience, not being able to remember things from one minute to the next, but my most prominent symptom is expressive aphasia. I simply cannot come up with the words for things. I have a new empathy for people with dementia or brain injuries, and even pre-verbal children, in that I understand how frustrating it is to know what I want to communicate and be unable to do so.

Jaymz has gotten pretty good at deciphering what I'm trying to say to him. More often than not, I'll just say a word that I know isn't the right one out of frustration (and because that's the only word that will come into my head). For example, I might request that he put his dirty socks in the "trash" instead of the "laundry," but he usually gets the point. (Arguably, saying "Put them in the trash" is a little more communicative than just saying "Put them in the thing," which is another option in these situations.)

The third option, however, is totally involuntary. It is that my brain will invent a new word to communicate what I'm trying to say, all the while convincing me that it's not only a real word but the correct word! Well-known and hilarious blogger Dooce writes about her experience with this when she yells at her husband to put the leftovers in the tussle-wob-nater.

Here's what happened to me:

Jaymz and I were in the car and he was driving. I was telling him a story about something (I already forget what!) and trying to describe the shape of something in the story. I suddenly couldn't remember the word for that shape, so I thought about it for a while, said "um...uhhh...." a few times, and then I remembered, "Ectangle!" Jaymz started laughing, and I laughed, too, because that wasn't the right word! But I could picture it in my mind, so I tried again, "ANKTANGLE!" Yes, that's it! I thought, but Jaymz was still cracking up, and I couldn't figure out why. So, I said it a couple more times, more definitively this time, "Anktangle...anktangle!" At this point, he was laughing so hard, no sound was coming out of his mouth, but all I kept thinking was, 'Anktangle,' that's really hard to say! I wonder why they would make a word that is so hard to say, especially for something simple like a shape. And why have I never realized before now how difficult it is to say that word?!

Sigh. Eventually Jaymz stopped laughing and told me that the word I was looking for was "rectangle", and then I proceeded to laugh until I just about peed my pants. At least I've managed to keep my sense of humor about my pregnant brain!


  1. Oh, my gosh, that is too hilarious! I love that you have no idea in the moment that it's not the right word. I want to start using anktangle now.

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story. Please do use anktangle, but I hope you'll tell me about it if you do!

  3. In light of this, you might be interested in what Douglas Hofstadter has to say about "word blends" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8m7lFQ3njk). Enjoyed your story. MT

  4. Read this again just now. Love it. It makes me laugh.

  5. I had been wondering about the name. Since I didn't know, I had been imagining that it meant some sort of trouble or sticky situation a parent could get into with a young child. Like if my three-year-old tied my feet together with a jump rope while I was sleeping, that would be an anktangle. Or if I went to the mall and my baby pooped and I had forgotten to bring any diapers. LOL--now I won't have to wonder anymore! Cute story!

  6. Jenny, that is awesome! I think anktangle has a new, dual definition. Thanks for telling me what you were thinking!

  7. My husband and I call that forphing. As in "I am so tired right now that I am having trouble forphing my words!" I said that once and it stuck as a name for all those made-up sleep-deprived words. Luckily, our partners generally understand our forphs!

  8. Oh Maggie, that's so funny! I'm glad other people have made up words to apply to these situations. It was so great to see you and Henry yesterday. We should get together sometime soon since you'll be working Wednesdays. Let me know when!

  9. Oh... I cannot tell you how many times I misplaced words while pregnant. I never invented new words like that (I was giggling reading that and my 18 month old started mocking me), but 80% of my vocabulary consisted of "thing", "thingy", or "thing-a-ma-jig" with or without the "other" in front of them. Example: "Honey, get me that ting out of the thing-a-ma-jig. I think it's next to the other thingy." And honestly, I would get frustrated with him (poor man) when he had no earthly idea what I wanted. And to think, I used to be a fairly intelligent person. LOL! So glad to have most of my brain back.

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