Aphasia is a disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain that control language. It can make it hard for you to read, write, and say what you mean to say. It is most common in adults who have had a stroke. Brain tumors, infections, injuries, and dementia can also cause it. The type of problem you have and how bad it is depends on which part of your brain is damaged and how much damage there is.

There are four main types:

  • Expressive aphasia – you know what you want to say, but you have trouble saying or writing what you mean
  • Receptive aphasia – you hear the voice or see the print, but you can’t make sense of the words
  • Anomic aphasia – you have trouble using the correct word for objects, places, or events
  • Global aphasia – you can’t speak, understand speech, read, or write

I will when I’m writing occasionally have trouble coming up with the word I want. It’s on the tip of my tongue, but I can’t spit it out. Yesterday I wanted to use the word for a boat that had rowers, ancient, the Phoenicians among others used them… GAH! Just couldn’t find that word in my brain. The First Reader walked in after work and I told him about what I’d been writing and oh, what is the word… He looked at me. “Galleys.”


I posted about this on fb a while back, the whole circumlocution of the word I wanted, and friends came up with the word, helpfully, and then the discussion drifted, as threads are wont to do, in the direction of other things. For instance, we all know that when we were young, or if we ourselves have children (or dogs, it seems) we were called by all our siblings names before our own came out of the mother’s mouth. It’s noted that the more angry the mother is over the frog in the refrigerator, eggs in the carpet, or what have you, the more difficulty she has in coming up with the right name (the steam coming out of her ears was a cue for said culprit to run far, run fast, usually).

And I myself have noted that I’ll give up, use another word in place of the aggravatingly missing one, and then wake up in the middle of the night, sit bolt upright, and blurt it out. And now, I have this happen in two languages with this last year of focusing hard on learning Spanish. As I told my instructor, with the breadth of vocabulary I have in English, it’s horribly frustrating to not be able to use words in Spanish. The dictionary I had didn’t help. What kind of dictionary doesn’t have words for farm, bug, insect, or goat in it? Geesh.

The other thing I told her, which made her laugh and tell me that yes, I am weird, is that I used to read the dictionary. Yes, just sit down and read it like it was a novel. It meant that in the huge old book Mom kept for us I could find all sorts of interesting words I could never pronounce properly (until in my teens I found a pronunciation dictionary, now sadly lost, that dated to the 1880s). I also learned about etymology that way, and became a happy word geek.

Which might be why it bothers me so much when I lose a word, however temporarily. My aphasia is simply the result of thinking too hard at any given moment and losing it for a moment, it’s not the result of brain trauma (I’m pretty sure!) and it’s a common enough malady I share with friends. I suspect it has more to do with how our brains form connections. If one moment I’m reading, writing, and concentrating on the appearance and eating habits of kelpies, the next I might well not be able to come up with the name of a sort of boat that has rower’s benches.

I can’t imagine living with not being able to read, write, or speak. While I can go days without talking to anyone outside my family, I do rely on them to bounce ideas off of, chat with, and… Writing is a constant. Between the blog and school, even when I’m not writing creatively, I produce a thousand words or more a day without thinking too hard.

Speaking of creative writing, I’ve broken 20K words on Dragon Noir now. The plan is for this book to be roughly 100K words long, about the same as the others in the trilogy. Once I’ve finished the rough draft, I’ll post snippets on the blog, but that will be late January I think. The dragon – well, one of them – has just arrived on stage in the book, which relieves me. I was beginning to worry about when the dragons would show up, in a book with them in the title, so readers would expect it.

It’s a cold and rainy day outside. The dog took one look and gave up in disgust, returning to the chair she claims as her bed. The First Reader has ventured out to work. As for me? I shall put on mood music, and write until my hands feel like falling off. I can’t think of anything better to do on a day like this.

A murder of Crows: another word for a flock
A murder of Crows: another word for a flock

5 thoughts on “Aphasia

  1. On the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., one of the characters has struggled with brain-trauma-induced aphasia. It’s gotten shout-outs from viewers who’ve dealt with people who had it for the accuracy of the depiction.

    1. Very interesting. Someone mentioned it on FB as well, I don’t watch the show (no TV, so if I don’t start something on Netflix, I don’t even bother). It’s got to be a very scary and frustrating experience as a disorder rather than an occasional thing.

  2. TBI survivor of almost 21 years here. Aphasia is irritating, but you either learn to live with it or you drive yourself nuts fighting it. If you’re lucky, the people around you don’t look at you like you’ve slipped a gear because you said one thing and totally meant another – like substituting the word where for what or calling a table a chair. I’m lucky to have a very understanding husband who doesn’t mind waiting while I stumble through trying to say what I mean. (And ever luckier that I don’t experience as many problems writing as I do speaking. That would totally suck.)

  3. Mine usually shows up in speech, which makes for a long pause as I stop and think about it. The family is used to it. They probably think I know too many words and got confused.

    Did you ever figure out why a flock of crows became a murder? I’ve always wondered.

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