slip of the ear

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

slip of the ear
Examples of slips of the ear, cited by Norbert Schmitt in Vocabulary in Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2000).


A slip of the ear is an error of misperception in listening: mistaking a word or phrase for a similar-sounding word or phrase in speech or conversation. Also called mishearing.

Slips of the ear provide researchers with insights into the ways in which words are recognized in connected speech.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations


  • "She looked away from him, her face working.

    "'Can't you understand what a shock I have had? I thought you were the perfect knight.'

    "'Yes, isn't it?'

    "'Isn't what?'

    "'I thought you said it was a perfect night.'

    "'I said I thought you were the perfect knight.'

    "'Oh, ah!'"
    (P. G. Wodehouse, The Girl on the Boat, 1922)

  • "[A] graphic designer asked me why my software product flowed 'down.' It didn't, but it was an interesting idea, one that led to a major innovation. Later, I found out that I'd misunderstood him. He had asked me if a link opened down, not if the product had flowed down. The mix-up, I believe, was really my subconscious feeding me a new idea, a Freudian slip of the ear."
    (David Kord Murray, Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others. Gotham Books, 2009)

  • "People tend to mishear consonants more frequently than vowels, and the misheard sound or syllable is usually unstressed and comes in the middle of a word. For this reason it's easy for people to mishear 'It's about time Robert May was here' as 'It's about time to drop my brassiere.'"
    (Michael Erard, Um . . .: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean. Pantheon, 2007)

  • Slips of the Ear and Word Boundaries
    - "Slips of the Ear are useful in providing insights into how listeners determine where word boundaries lie in connected speech. When listeners misplace boundaries, they tend to insert them between a weak syllable and a strong--suggesting that segmentation is influenced by the predominant SW (strong-weak) pattern which characterises English rhythm."
    (John Field, Psycholinguistics: The Key Concepts. Routledge, 2004)

    - "Because casual speech is a continuous stream, listeners have to segment the stream in some way in order to find phonological sequences to compare with words in their mental lexicon. Slips of the ear involving word boundaries suggest that listeners employ stressed syllables as aids in segmentation.

    "In the simplest case of word boundary errors, all properties of the target utterance correspond with the perceived utterance except for the presence of word boundaries. A classic error of this type is:
    acute back pain - a cute back pain
    The listener perceived the phonological material accurately but misanalyzed the speaker's utterance, interpreting the initial unstressed syllable as an article. Listeners may fail to detect word boundaries, insert spurious word boundaries, or shift the location of the word boundary."
    (Z.S. Bond, "Slips of the Ear." The Handbook of Speech Perception, ed. by David Pisoni and Robert Remez. Wiley-Blackwell, 2005)

  • Stress and Slips of the Ear
    "Stress within a word is relatively unimportant in many languages, but in English the initial syllable of most content words (e.g., nouns, verbs) is typically stressed. When listeners heard strings of words without the stress on the first syllable, they often misheard them (Cutler & Butterfield, 1992). For example, many listeners who heard 'conduct ascents uphill' presented very faintly misheard it, because they mistakenly assumed the words started with a stressed rather than an unstressed syllable."
    (Michael Eysenck and Mark T. Keane, Cognitive Psychology: A Student's Handbook, 5th ed. Taylor & Francis, 2005)

  • Chocolate Orange and the Novel A Clockwork Orange
    "Terry's began manufacturing its Chocolate Orange in 1931. . . . The words 'chocolate orange' were thus a part of everyday speech in 1940s London, and might have been overheard anywhere. 'Chocolate' and 'clockwork' are not homophones, but they are close, and might sound alike in a noisy pub. Perhaps [Anthony] Burgess misheard. Perhaps he even realized that he had misheard but liked what he had misheard."
    (Gary Dexter, Why Not Catch-21?: The Stories Behind the Titles. Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2007)

  • Slips of the Ear by Second-Language Learners
    "An examination of written transcriptions of audio-recorded speech that were prepared by advanced second language learners at UCLA indicates that verbs are commonly misheard (e.g. thought for fraught). Personal names are often not recognized as such (e.g. down the reed instead of Donna Reed), and idioms are often misheard (e.g. more stuff and barrel for lock, stock, and barrel; both proper names and idioms in fact are prime candidates for mishearing even among native speakers (Celce-Murcia, 1980)."
    (Marianne Celce-Murcia and Elite Olshtain, Discourse and Context in Language Teaching: A Guide for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press, 2001)