Robert Resnick was lecturing his psychology students — one of them wearing an extremely short skirt — about how hypnotism works.
"I want you to focus here," the professor said, tapping his forehead. "Right between my thighs."
And that is what we call a Freudian slip.
As we enter the holiday season and celebrate the family, let us also celebrate the man who made us aware that the words that accidentally come out of our mouths actually come out of our brains via the slipping tongue.
"Speak to me, O unconscious!" laughs Resnick (now) about his gaffe. Like Sigmund Freud himself, he appreciates the fact that often the tongue gives its owner away. Only an hour after Resnick had called to tell me his thighs story, he called back to say a student had just stopped by his office to say, "I can't get my paper done on time; my printer's working." Oops.
This, in turn, reminded him of the time another student asked him to sign her chest. Er — request!
It was Freud's genius to realize that our minds are working on a couple of levels at once: polite and Howard Stern. What's more amazing is that one of the ways he reached this revelation was by trying to figure out where slips come from.
"The slip originates from two pressures," New York psychoanalyst Martin Bergmann explained to me a few years back. (He just died, at age 100.) "There is the pressure of the unconscious that wants to get its message out, and there is the pressure of censorship that wants to send it back."
These drives collide like speeding trains (to pick a random large, thrusting metaphor). The ensuing wreck represents the kind of slip my pal Matt Jackson experienced when he first met his future mother-in-law.
Admiring her spare, mission-influenced decorating style, Matt confided, "I like it missionary-style, too."
It's hard to forget a slip like that — or any slip. Once, when I asked newspaper readers to send me their favorite Freudian slips, one woman told about a long-ago dinner party she'd been invited to where the meat was almost unchewable. Trying to think of something nice to say, she finally exclaimed, "My, this tough is tender!"
Another reader recalled the time a clerk was helping her try on a pair of shoes, when, unfortunately, she experienced some flatulence.
She was so embarrassed she ran out of the store — forgetting her pocketbook. When she came back to get it, there was the salesman, putting away her shoes. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I forgot my gas."
Freud may have been a heavy, changing the way we regard the psyche and all, but you can tell he was having some fun along the way when you read all the goofs he compiled for his 1901 classic, "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life."
One professor, Freud wrote, had just explained that notoriously complex organism, the nostril. When he asked whether his students understood how it worked and everyone replied yes, the professor couldn't believe it — "for the number of people who understand the nostril can be counted on one finger." Er, hand!
Another Freud story was of an upper-crust woman deploring the fact that young girls need to be pretty to attract the opposite sex, whereas all a young man needs are "five straight limbs."
It's nice to realize that no matter how much we may cringe when we make one, we owe a lot to the humble blooper — and so does Freud.
Making a slip? Embarrassing.
Inspiring a genius? Penis.
Priceless, I mean! Priceless!