March 11, 2002
3:44 PM   Subscribe

They call them"echphenomena".It's interesting to discover years later that there's a formal name for something you experienced. Around age 7 to 8, I went through a period where I would repeat everything a second time just under my breath(I could also not hear my self doing so). It eventually went away on it's own, but for a while I was freaking people out. In my twenties I met two other people who underwent similar experiences. Most often, these behaviors seem to be associated with Tourrete's Syndrome or Parkinson's, although I suffer from neither. It is a fascinating phenomena, though. Have any other MeFite's been acquainted with this phenomena?
posted by jonmc (38 comments total)
Not to make light of your post jonmc, but you had me repeating your typo over and over thinking "is that right?" Echophenomena - it's interesting they even have a specific name for this behavior. My brother who has autism has a strong tendency toward echolalia - mostly looking for approval by repeating what someone said back to them with a look of 'is this what you meant'?
posted by kokogiak at 3:51 PM on March 11, 2002


Just noticed that, kokogiak. Mine was more like this:

"Hi, kokogiak...[very softly] Hi, kokogiak"

to which people would say "Cut that out!" and I'd in all honesty say, "Cut what out?." I remember seeing a doctor about it, but I don't remember what he told me. Perhaps it was a very mild form of autism or Tourrette's.
posted by jonmc at 3:57 PM on March 11, 2002

My friend's older brother went through a similar phase when he was younger (close to 7 or 8 I believe, although this was before I knew him). It also seemed to clear itself up as he got older. Interestingly enough, he later developed a benign brain tumor. Luckily, it was operable and he has since fully recovered. Perhaps unrelated, but curious nonetheless.
posted by cathodeheart at 4:00 PM on March 11, 2002

Everyone who reads MeFi has seen it. Its called a double post. Shouldn't this be in MetaTalkTalk?

It has even been covered in Children's literature. I am not sure how popular this was outside of Canada but Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang is a classic.
posted by srboisvert at 4:01 PM on March 11, 2002

Jacob Two Two said things twice aloud in order to be heard by people who weren't listening to him because he was just a little kid who didn't have much of importance to offer. Those with echophenomena don't have a legitimate reason to repeat themselves, nor can they particularly explain it; they are simply compelled to do it. They may repeat themselves, or they may repeat the comments of those around them.

My grandfather was afflicted with this during the ending stages of his battle with Parkinsons. It would frustrate and anger some of the unskilled, unaware and generally impatient people who worked in his nursing facility. It got to a point where I had to post a sign above his bed explaining the malady and instructing workers not to fuss at him. (That they'd fuss at a terminally ill old man was bothersome in and of itself, but that's another matter.)
posted by Dreama at 4:19 PM on March 11, 2002

I know of a pronounced case, but whether it was natural or intentional I can't say. The man was a military trainer who had worked a lot with non-English speaking students. But even during routine conversations, he would always repeat what he had just said--or the "highlights" of the sentence--just the most important part.
posted by kablam at 4:25 PM on March 11, 2002

My little brother used to do that, for about a year when he was six. It seemed unconscious, but he'd realize he was doing it if you pointed it out, not that he could stop it. I always figured it had something to do with how kids learn language, repeating the words, and my brother was something akin to a sleep talker, mouthing subconscious processes. Not that the medical diagnosis of a twelve year old (my age at the time) should hold much water.
posted by Nothing at 4:28 PM on March 11, 2002

I do this, too, jonmc, particularly when tired (so very often late at night). It drives my wife nuts.

It's like I'm being stupid on purpose, faking an 'echo' to the last few syllables of a sentence. But I don't know I'm doing it, nor do I notice unless she points it out.

Is that palilalia, though? This definition notes, "a condition characterized by the repetition of a phrase or word with increasing rapidity." I'm certainly not doing that, which sounds more like what cartoon characters do before exploding...

Tourrete's Syndrome or Parkinson's, though? Yipe.
posted by pzarquon at 4:28 PM on March 11, 2002

Echophenomena, eh?
yesss, precioussss, it'ss got echophenomena, it hasss.....
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:30 PM on March 11, 2002

Hmm, no experience with echophenomena, but I went to college with a guy that had full-blown Tourette's. George had two dominant vocal outbursts: EHP (very fast and clipped, with his mouth closing to cut it off as it is starting), and FUCKIT (so fast it takes a few times to realize it wasn't an ehp).

Several of my friends started using George's outbursts as interjections and exclamations, among many other bizarre vocal affectations. To this day, give a room full of my college friends enough alcohol and there's a good chance that you will eventually hear a Scottish Klingon with Tourette's. Two of them got married (not George), and I swear to all of you that I have heard their child, born years after his parent's graduated from college, use "ehp" as an exclamation.
posted by NortonDC at 5:29 PM on March 11, 2002

God that disease must suck
posted by Settle at 5:50 PM on March 11, 2002

Yes, I'm autistic. I have a lot of personal experience with echphenomena, because repeating what I say or what someone else says under my breath is sometimes the only way that I can process aural information fast enough to take part in day to day life.
posted by SpecialK at 7:31 PM on March 11, 2002

And for everyone who's cracked jokes, ha-ha, but YOU try to get a date when you've gotta repeat your stuttering request and her refusal to yourself a few times before you 'get it'.
posted by SpecialK at 7:32 PM on March 11, 2002

Err. Make that echophenomena.

Post == "Reveal typos"

(Honestly, I was still repeating Johnmc's post to myself...)
posted by SpecialK at 7:54 PM on March 11, 2002

In all seriousness, when I was somewhere between 5 and 10, I used to have episodes of phrases repeating in my head. Very scary. It went away, and unless I'm dreaming, I'm relatively normal.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:04 PM on March 11, 2002

There's a terrific novel by Nicholas Christopher called "A Trip to the Stars" (not sci-fi, more like magic realism) in which a major character has this syndrome.
posted by grumblebee at 8:30 PM on March 11, 2002

I did exactly what you're describing as well when I was about ten or so, jonmc.
I'd completely forgotten about it `till now. Very interesting.
posted by dong_resin at 8:34 PM on March 11, 2002

Returning to topic...

If it's this common, I wonder what its purpose is in brain development? For instance, the repetition could be building synaptic pathways between different sections of your brain that would aid in later processing and development.

Supposedly, and I can't remember where i read this, 8-10 years is also the age that children have the easiest time learning foreign languages in, and it's when it's best to build a child's vocabulary and later literary habits.
posted by SpecialK at 8:44 PM on March 11, 2002

dong- perhaps we were both left here by the same spaceship.

Not to mention in Goodfellas there's a gangster named "Eddie Two-Times" who does the same thing, So I guess it's not rare. Unfortunately, beyond the Tourette's and Parkinson's onnections the little bit of info I was able to scare up online didn't give much information on whether it's biological(and possibly genetic) or psychological.

SpecialK-FWIW, I still find myself mentally repeating my own statements if I'm tense or anxious.
posted by jonmc at 9:00 PM on March 11, 2002

When I was a kid, I talked to myself quite a bit, but it wasn't like having a conversation, it was usually repeating a word or phrase or sound in different combinations, sometimes making up rhymes with the word I was repeating. Actually, I still do this sometimes, usually only when I'm alone, as I try to keep a lid on it when I'm around people. I've asked my therapist about it and he said that I have more pressing problems to worry about, that since it didn't affect my life, it wasn't something to be concerned about. I've always wondered if it was some mild form of Tourettes, though I doubt it, since I can completely control it. If I'm alone, I don't bother controlling it, so my neighbors probably think I'm a loon. Actually, you all might think I'm a loon now. Oh well. I just found it similar to jonmc's echophenomena, and wondered if anyone else could relate.

Interestingly, when I was taking the MAO Inhibitor drug Nardil years ago, I never did it. But several years later, while I was taking Wellbutrin, I did it much more than usual. The word I repeated most often was 'chicken'. Hmm... I am nuts.
posted by evanizer at 9:02 PM on March 11, 2002

There is a person at my work who repeats the last sentence of whatever you just said. I always wonder if it's a registering/understanding practice that's become habit.
posted by Neale at 9:28 PM on March 11, 2002

Repeating the last few words of what the other person just said... check. Repeating a word I just heard under my breath, just to taste it... check. Vocalizing snippets of inner dialogue, combining and rhyming it with other random noise... check. Reminds me of a physical tic I had in my early teens: if i touched a rough spot with my left elbow, i had to do it with my right as well. Weird, but nice to discover those little neurological quirks are much more common then I thought.
posted by disso at 6:08 AM on March 12, 2002

Reminds me of a physical tic I had in my early teens: if i touched a rough spot with my left elbow, i had to do it with my right as well.

I had this kind of compulsion for a while, in my teens, but with fingertips, not elbows. It sounds more like a "transient tic disorder" than anything else. Affects 5-24% of all schoolkids, apparently.

Never experienced echophenomena, unless someone talks to me while I'm really concentrating on thinking about something else, when I might repeat what they said a few times, until my mind gets an attention slot to devote to it.
posted by walrus at 7:01 AM on March 12, 2002

As a kid, every once in a while, a certain word would temporarily "stick" in my head - hard to describe the sensation, the only one I actually remember is "trust". I didn't automatically repeat it, but I would say it to myself and it almost had a resonance to it.

I also heard what I call tones - like the ringing in your ears after exposure to loud noise, but much softer. I thought everybody experienced the same thing and never told anyone about it.

When I was about 35 I had a grand mal seizure. After living with epilepsy for awhile, I can now trace these childhood experiences to the auditory aura I experience prior to a seizure. My seizures are well-controlled with medication, but occasionally a little something leaks through. The funniest(?) clue is that voices begin to sound like a radio announcer's, with everything overinflected.

I may be weird, but I can blame it on bad wiring. What's your excuse?
posted by groundhog at 7:04 AM on March 12, 2002

I remember doing that (repeating what I'd just said under my breath) when I was about 6 or 7, but getting laughed-at made me quit.
I wonder whether there's a term for someone who compulsively says "Huh?" to compel you to repeat yourself. Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber used this in their long-ago comedy act, with Schreiber as the hapless cabdriver and Burns as the motormouthed passenger: "Great weather, huh?" "Yeah." "Huh?" "Yeah." "Huh?" "Yeah." "Huh?" "YEAH!"
My brother-in-law does that...drives ya nuts, ya know? (huh?)
posted by StOne at 7:10 AM on March 12, 2002

When I was younger (and to a certain extent I still do this), I used to sub-vocalize what I was thinking--basically, I'd talk to myself without realizing that was what I was doing. My lips would move, but no sound would come out.

The only person who ever got on my case about it was the special ed teacher when I was in 10th grade (the special ed kids had gym at the same time I did, so she was there to supervise them). I never understood why this woman felt compelled to mock me to my face when she dealt with much more serious things on a day to day basis with her class. Maybe she got a kick out of taking the wind out of one of the smart kids or something.

The funny thing is that my boyfriend does this also, but he tends to make a little bit of noise when he does it, so his mutterings are audible--and about 90% of the time he doesn't realize he's doing it.

Yes, we're both freaks. ;-)
posted by eilatan at 7:29 AM on March 12, 2002

As a kid, every once in a while, a certain word would temporarily "stick" in my head - hard to describe the sensation, the only one I actually remember is "trust". I didn't automatically repeat it, but I would say it to myself and it almost had a resonance to it.

I had this too, but being a teenage geek it was things like "hexadecimal" and "Apple DOS" that would get stuck in a loop in my head.
posted by kindall at 7:40 AM on March 12, 2002

This is not the same thing but my younger sister used to count syllables on her fingers as she spoke or was spoken to. This was at roughly age 10 for about a year. I think it was a kind of OCD although we didn't recognize it as such at the time. The rest of us in the family hated it - it's really distracting and irritating to speak to someone who's ticking off the syllables. She continued to do it even when forbidden, just very subtly wiggling her fingers to keep track or doing it behind her back or with her hands clenched (but you could see the tendons in the back of her hands moving as she tallied).
posted by TimeFactor at 8:04 AM on March 12, 2002

I type everything that I say and everything that anyone else says to me in my head, still. My fingers slightly pulse.
I don't walk on cracks that are parallel to the sidewalk.
I used to obsess over the Nancy Drew picture captions. Memorizing them saying them over and over. "'Stop Bess', Nancy Screams!" I recorded myself reading the pictures aloud. Saying, "That was a Nancy Drew picture" after I finished reading the caption.
I think we are all probably freaky and wierd, and we are probably more interesting because of it, and we also aren't able to make friends in real life because of it. Oh well.
posted by goneill at 8:14 AM on March 12, 2002

This is more a more fun confessional area than the recent stealing thread.
posted by goneill at 8:15 AM on March 12, 2002

My son (now 8) did this at the age of 5. He would softly repeat the last two words of his sentences, and look a little distant, as if he were listening to himself speak. It wasn't particularly irritating or disturbing, though his older brother gave him grief over it. His mom and I just thought it was a cute affectation, not nearly as bothersome as his brother's stutter at the same age.

I've also noticed that certain substances, salvia divinorum for example, will create a sort of echo chamber effect in my mind, so that a phrase will repeat itself several times until another thought seems to come along and replace it.
posted by norm29 at 10:35 AM on March 12, 2002

Groundhog--when were you diagnosed with epilepsy? was 35 the first onset of seizure symptoms? the reason i ask is because as a kid, i experienced those sensations of hearing tones and especially the way voices turn weird--all tinny and overinflected. a radio-announcer is a perfect way to describe it. i went through a bunch of tests after having a fainting spell and seizure when i was 18. they said i wasn't epileptic then, but now wonder if it may develop later...
posted by mariko at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2002

When I was younger (like, Elementary School) I didn't have many friends, and, as such, had limited social contact. On the occasions I did talk to people, I sort of not-thinkingly repeated whatever I (or they, at times) said; I guess just for the purpose of preparing myself for more future social contact -- I basically repeated certain key bits and said them different ways.

It sort of faded out as I got older and gained more friends, but it still pops up once in a great while. I don't really notice it unless I'm thinking about it.
posted by Theiform at 2:11 PM on March 12, 2002

Mariko, if you email me I can respond in more detail.
posted by groundhog at 2:19 PM on March 12, 2002

I repeat other people's mistakes. Do I have echotitanica?
posted by verdezza at 6:02 PM on March 12, 2002

Wow, ticking off syllables on one's fingers - I did this when I was a kid, and I'd totally forgotten about it until now. Come to think of it, occasionally I do still do it, when I use a particularly long word in a sentence or one whose sound I like. It's not terribly noticeable, I just drum my fingers against my leg, one finger for every syllable, very swiftly. Hm. I never consciously noticed this until now.
posted by annathea at 2:13 PM on March 13, 2002

I don't walk on cracks that are parallel to the sidewalk.

Me neither.. and I have to take the same amount of steps per section of walkway. 2 steps per block? 1 step per block? If there are white and brown panels on the floor I will only be able to walk on the white ones (or maybe the brown ones). People have noticed me taking baby steps or giant steps to fulfill one of these requirements....a little embarrassing.
posted by uftheory at 4:59 PM on March 13, 2002

I do the same thing with the steps. Are you sure that you don't walk on cracks PARALLEL, not just on cracks, but PARALLEL? It's crazy trying to walk in NYC, let me tell you...
posted by goneill at 7:13 PM on March 13, 2002

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