Semantic satiation: a scientific term for something we’ve likely all experienced. When a word loses its meaning, and the meaning loses its word, and repetition kills our understanding of the word. “Insanity, insanity, insanity, insanity, i-n-s-a-n-i-t-y.” Repeating this word again and again and over again in your head or out loud, does it start to lose its meaning? Of course, it does. Ironically, many will define ‘insanity’ as doing the same thing over and over and over once again, expecting different results.
This phenomenon was first mentioned & described scientifically in The American Journal of Psychology by Elizabeth Severance and Margaret Floy Washburn in 1907. “If a printed word is looked at steadily for some little time, it will be found to take on a curiously strange and foreign aspect. This loss of familiarity in its appearance sometimes makes it look like a word in another language, sometimes proceeds further until the word is a mere collection of letters, and occasionally reaches the extreme where the letters themselves look like meaningless marks on the paper.”
Opening up my eyes to cold sweat, I know exactly what’s wrong. Night after night after night I’ve wrestled with the little pink grown-up treats next to the alarm clock on my nightstand. My bed seems damp. I’m sweating more than I initially thought. The plates and screws in my lower back seem to be stabbing the interior of my skin, waiting to pierce the flesh. I feel heavy, as if I’ve been injected with liquid metal in every main artery. I’m mustering strength to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom, but the urge to swallow a pill is stronger. Looking in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. Sunken eyes and chapped lips and pale skin, I see a ghost in the mirror, a fucking monster. This image combined with an instinctual and festering need for the drug is making me sick to my stomach.
I should go back to sleep and fight the urge. Yeah… back to bed. My eyes won’t close. My mind is racing and my heart is beating out of my chest. I can’t get over the ghoulish figure in the mirror. I need a pill. I need god damned pill. Better now. I can sleep. The next morning and the next night I’ll repeat this process, again and again, and over again. Insanity, I tell you.
So, why do our brains process words differently when we repeat them consistently, in fast repetition? Are we not capable of retaining basic information and keeping the connection of word and meaning alive? Maybe. Professor Leon James of Hawaii’s College of Social Sciences once stated “it’s a kind of fatigue. It’s called reactive inhibition: When a brain cell fires, it takes more energy to fire the second time, and still more the third time, and finally the fourth time it won’t even respond unless you wait a few seconds.”
It’s all in my head, then. Great, I can overcome this. It’s my brain and I control what happens up there. Not a little pink piece of adult candy. Maybe if I get out of the house, despite my injuries and fragile state, it’ll occupy my mind with other things. People I love and people that love me. Doing something fun and possibly productive. That’s the cure. Having fun in ways I used to. Used to. Used to. Used too. Use. Two. Use. I need to use. I need two. Not one, two. I need a pill. I need a god damned pill. Better now. I can function. The next morning and the next night I’ll repeat this process, again and again, and over again. Insanity, I tell you.
There must be a cure or preventative measure to stop semantic satiation, right? Who are we without our words and what is a word without meaning? How can we subject ourselves to losing this meaning temporarily or all together? There must be a cure. Maybe hitting CTRL+F will let me seek and destroy the substances I have satiated again and again and over again. I’ve really slipped off the deep end here, and this must be grueling to read. What was I on about again? What the fuck is all this for? What was the reason?
Insanity, I tell you.
I’ve really slipped off the deep end here. This is grueling. Something needs to change. As the little pink pills once represented pain relief, now they’re causing me pain. Or is the pain even there anymore? I don’t know. Something needs to change. I am in pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. I need a pill. I need a god damned pill. I am out of pills. Shit. The pain is coming back and the pills have lost their meaning. Perhaps satiating the discomfort of withdrawal will see me through this. A different kind of pain. No, not pain, discomfort. Discomfort. Displeasure. Dystopia. Disadvantage. Difficulty. New words. New words are good. Better now. I can sleep, I can function. The next morning and the next night I’ll repeat this process, again, and again and over again.
Clarity, I tell you.