Fused words

I’ve come to notice some patterns in some people’s speaking that I find sort of irritating but also interesting. It seems that certain groups of words that are spoken together often enough become ‘fused’ together to be one word in the mind.

For example (and once I mention this you will hear it all the time and hate me): it is very common to say the words ‘the problem is’ or ‘the question is’ or ‘the thing is’ in groups like that. What I often hear, on the radio or in conversations, is people saying ‘the problem is, is…’ and then going on to state the problem.

It’s as if the words ‘the problem is’ have fused together and become the preamble for listing a problem, so instead of saying ‘the problem (pause) is that I ate too much pepperoni’ it comes out as ‘the problem is (pause) is that I ate too much pepperoni’.

Every time I hear someone saying this, I find myself wondering how long it will be until another ‘is’ is added into the fused group. Will people be saying ‘the problem is is, is I have a speech impediment’ at some point in the future?

This isn’t the only example. Just today I heard someone in the supermarket making an announcement over the PA. He said ‘Julie to check-stand 5 please, please.’

The man must have said ‘so and so to check-stand whatever please’ so many times that the group of words became just one sequence of sounds that he said when he needed someone at the check-stand, and after saying that sequence of sounds he felt the need to be polite and add ‘please’ on the end of it.

I wonder if this is related to semantic satiation, the phenomenon where repeating a word often enough causes it to temporarily lose meaning and become just a sound.

I’m certainly not a linguist, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there  were already a term for this and other examples. If you have any examples I’d like to hear them!


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