The Psychopathology of Everyday Life
Freud, 1901

Chapter 2: The Forgetting of Foreign Words

Last summer . . . I renewed my acquaintance with a certain young man of academic background. I soon found that he was familiar with some of my psychological publications. We had fallen into conversation -- how I have now forgotten -- about the social status of the race to which we both belonged; and ambitious feelings prompted him to give vent to a regret that his generation was doomed (as he expressed it) to atrophy, and could not develop its talents or satisfy its needs. He ended a speech of impassioned fervour with the well-known line of Virgil's in which the unhappy Dido commits to posterity her vengeance on Aeneas: 'Exoriare. . . ' Or rather, he wanted to end it in this way, for he could not get hold of the quotation and tried to conceal an obvious gap in what he remembered by changing the order of the words: 'Exoriar(e) ex nostris ossibus ultor.' At last he said irritably: 'Please don't look so scornful: you seem as if you were gloating over my embarrassment. Why not help me? There's something missing in the line; how does the whole thing really go?'

'I'll help you with pleasure,' I replied, and gave the quotation in its correct form: 'Exoriar(e) ALIQUIS nostris ex ossibus ultor.' 1

'How stupid to forget a word like that! By the way, you claim that one never forgets a thing without some reason. I should be very curious to learn how I came to forget the indefinite pronoun "aliquis" in this case.'

I took up this challenge most readily, for I was hoping for a contribution to my collection. So I said: 'That should not take us long. I must only ask you to tell me, candidly and uncritically, whatever comes into your mind if you direct your attention to the forgotten word without any definite aim.'2

'Good. There springs to my mind, then, the ridiculous notion of dividing up the word like this: a and liquis.'

'What does that mean?' 'I don't know.' 'And what occurs to you next?' 'What comes next is Reliquien [relics], liquefying, fluidity, fluid. Have you discovered anything so far?'

'No. Not by any means yet. But go on.'

'I am thinking', he went on with a scornful laugh, 'of Simon of Trent, whose relics I saw two years ago in a church at Trent. I am thinking of the accusation of ritual blood-sacrifice which is being brought against the Jews again just now, and of Kleinpaul's book [1892] in which he regards all these supposed victims as incarnations, one might say new editions, of the Saviour.'

'The notion is not entirely unrelated to the subject we were discussing before the Latin word slipped your memory.'

'True. My next thoughts are about an article that I read lately in an Italian newspaper. Its title, I think, was "What St. Augustine says about Women". What do you make of that?'

'I am waiting.'

'And now comes something that is quite clearly unconnected with our subject.'

'Please refrain from any criticism and --

'Yes, I understand. I am thinking of a fine old gentleman I met on my travels last week. He was a real original, with all the appearance of a huge bird of prey. His name was Benedict, if it's of interest to you.'

'Anyhow, here are a row of saints and Fathers of the Church:
Simon, St. Augustine, St. Benedict. There was, I think, a Church Father called Origen. Moreover, three of these names are also first names, like Paul in Kleinpaul.'

'Now it's St. Januarius and the miracle of his blood that comes into my mind-my thoughts seem to me to be running on mechanically.'

'Just a moment: St. Januarius and St. Augustine both have to do with the calendar. But won't you remind me about the miracle of his blood?'

'Surely you must have heard of that? They keep the blood of St. Januarius in a phial inside a church at Naples, and on a particular holy day it miraculously liquefies. The people attach great importance to this miracle and get very excited if it's delayed, as happened once at a time when the French were occupying the town. So the general in command -- or have I got it wrong? was it Garibaldi? -- took the reverend gentleman aside and gave him to understand, with an unmistakable gesture towards the soldiers posted outside, that he hoped the miracle would take place very soon. And in fact it did take place . . .

'Well, go on. Why do you pause?'

'Well, something has come into my mind . . . but it's too intimate to pass on. . . Besides, I don't see any connection, or any necessity for saying it.'

'You can leave the connection to me. Of course I can't force you to talk about something that you find distasteful; but then you mustn't insist on learning from me how you came to forget your aliquis.'

'Really? Is that what you think? Well then, I've suddenly thought of a lady from whom I might easily hear a piece of news that would be very awkward for both of us.'

'That her periods have stopped?'

'How could you guess that?'

'That's not difficult any longer; you've prepared the way sufficiently. Think of the calendar saints, the blood that starts to flow on a particular day, the disturbance when the event fails to take place, the open threats that the miracle must be vouchsafed, or else . . . In fact you've made use of the miracle of St. Januarius to manufacture a brilliant allusion to women's periods.'

'Without being aware of it. And you really mean to say that it was this anxious expectation that made me unable to produce an unimportant word like aliquis?'

'It seems to me undeniable. You need only recall the division you made into a-liquis, and your associations: relics, liquefying, fluid. St. Simon was sacrificed as a child -- shall I go on and show how he comes in? You were led on to him by the subject of relics.

'No, I'd much rather you didn't. I hope you don't take these thoughts of mine too seriously, if indeed I really had them In return I will confess to you that the lady is Italian and that I went to Naples with her. But mayn't all this just be a matter of chance?'

'I must leave it to your own judgement to decide whether you can explain all these connections by the assumption that they are matters of chance. I can however tell you that every case like this that you care to analyse will lead you to "matters of chance" that are just as striking.'3

I have several reasons for valuing this brief analysis; and my thanks are due to my travelling-companion who presented me with it.

Freud, S. (1901).
The psychopathology of everyday life. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 6. pp. 8-12)

1 [Virgil, Aeneid, IV, 625. Literally: 'Let someone (aliquis) arise from my bones as an avenger!']

2 'This is the general method of introducing concealed ideational elements to consciousness. Cf. my Interpretation of Dreams, Standard Ed., 4, 101.

3 [Footnote added 1924:] This short analysis has received much attention in the literature of the subject and has provoked lively discussion. Basing himself directly on it, Bleuler (1919) has attempted to determine mathematically the credibility of psychoanalytic interpretations, and has come to the conclusion that it has a higher probability value than thousands of medical 'truths' which have gone unchallenged, and that it owes its exceptional

Return to D2 Notes on aliquis.