So I’m in bed last night, reading a little bit (as is customary) before shutting out the light. I finish one article and move to the next. The title of this new article is “Sleeping with the Enemy”; and the subtitle, “What happened between the Netherlands and us?”
The Netherlands? I wonder. An enemy? Are we having problems with the Dutch which I have somehow overlooked?
So I start to read the article. It opens like this:
The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, is a large, mostly glass building shaped a bit like a banana. The institute sits at the southern edge of the city, in a neighborhood that still very much bears the stamp of its East German past.
Suddenly the needle in my reading mind jumps the groove: squwrawk! I think to myself, Wait, why does this start out by telling me about a building in the former East Germany? Then I back up to the very first words and add: …and what the hell, an institute for evolutionary anthropology?!? What’s that got to do with geopolitics?
Then I back up even further, to the New Yorker‘s category heading: annals of evolution, it says.
So that solves the mystery of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. But now I’m even more confused. Did we evolve from the Dutch? Say what—?!?
You’ve probably caught on by now, haven’t you? (Thereby compounding my embarrassment.) The word wasn’t Netherlands. The word was Neanderthals.
This sort of thing has happened to me before. I’ll be in the kitchen making a sandwich, say, and a weird or alarming phrase will pop vividly into my mind — so vividly that I can actually see it, which makes me realize that I actually read it just a moment ago, in a headline in the newspaper over here on the other counter, on my way to the pantry. I go to the paper and discover my error, but by then I’m hooked; I’ve got to read at least the opening of the article.
(And the Web? Sheesh. Bad enough as it is. But for someone so easily distracted by half-glimpsed language, the presence of half-glimpsed links is time-sink disaster waiting to happen.)
Netherlands, vs. Neanderthals. There must be a word for this sort of confusion. It seems related to Freudian slips. It also resembles the phenomenon of misheard song lyrics — so-called mondegreens, like “Round John Virgin” for “’round yon virgin” and “Crimea River” for “Cry me a river.” And I can’t be the only one it happens to.
We need a word for it, though.
Nominees? The best I’ve come up with so far would be used in a sentence something like this: I saw a great Dutch caveman the other day…