The tartle response

The Rock Paper Cynic comic titled “That Awkward Zombie Apocalypse Survival Moment When…” would soooo happen to me.

I really am awful; I usually need to meet a new person at least two or three times, within a short period of time, before I can guarantee that I’ll remember their name. Running into a brand new acquaintance, or someone I only see once or twice a year, will often cause me to go completely blank. Luckily (?), Mr E Man has the exact same problem; this means we both quickly recognise the signs that one of us is desperately trying not to have to introduce the other to someone, and will just introduce ourselves in the hope of eliciting the other person’s name in return. When I’m not with Mr E Man and am desperately trying not to have to introduce the person whose name I really should know to a friend or colleague who doesn’t instantly recognise my problem, things often end very awkwardly indeed. It’s really very embarrassing.

There may be hope, though – not that I can suddenly magically learn to remember names, but that a simple linguistic shift could mitigate my embarrassment.

You see, I was listening to an old episode of the excellent A Way With Words podcast recently, in which the presenters and listeners were contributing words from other languages and English dialects that don’t have an equivalent in standard English, but that really should because they’re so incredibly useful. One such word was tartle, defined as follows by Urban Dictionary:

A common Scottish term to insert at the awkward moment when you temporarily forget someone’s name. Useful to avoid that occasional embarrassment.

Steve: Hi, Susan!
Susan: Hi . . . uhhhhhh . . . Steve! Sorry, I tartled there for a moment.

Now, I lived in Glasgow for three and a half years and never heard this word once, but hey, let’s ignore that inconvenient little fact (not to mention the unsavoury Irish definition at the same link) and work on a strategy to get the Scottish definition into common usage in every English-speaking country. Having a universally understood term specific to this problem would make it so much more socially acceptable; “sorry, I’m tartling” just seems so much more understandable and less disrespectful – something that could and does happen to anyone! – than “sorry, I just can’t remember your name”.

Joining my campaign might even save your life in the event of a zombie apocalypse…

UPDATE: it has been decreed that the online version shall heretoforth be known as Twartling

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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21 Responses to The tartle response

  1. Crystal Voodoo says:

    I’m in. I’m an absolute mess at remembering names. For some reason that one detail doesn’t stick in the gray matter at all.

    Also thanks for the link. I’m a webcomics fiend and that seems right up my alley.

  2. Laurence Cox says:

    Great posting, Cath. Now I know what to say when it happens to me (which is quite frequently).

  3. cromercrox says:

    I have that problem. I think it’s a scientist/aspergic thing, stemming from poor skills at social interaction. People like us need an amanuensis to follow us around, with a balloon on a stick. Luckily Mrs Crox is wonderful at remembering peoples’ names and helps me out at such moments.

    Tangentially related – Crox Minor (aged nearly 15) tells me that a good definition of a teenager is someone who hasn’t done their maths homework but would know exactly what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

  4. chezjake says:

    I do love the term “tartle” and will try to remember to use it.

    Another approach to the problem is one used by my good friend Bill. At any large gathering of folks, he wears a large button that reads “Sorry, I can’t remember your name either.”

  5. chall says:

    Right there with you on the names and the introductions…. I usually try and do some sort of half way introduction…. (yet probably fairly obvious) starting it with “this is my coworker X and we’ve been working on… ” and then holding out the hands towards the one I can’t remember the name of… and hope they stretch out their hands and introduce themselves.

    It’s my “every-year-new-years-resolution” and maybe one day I’ll get a hang of it. So far, I’m going to use the “tartle response” ;)

  6. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    OK, five new members of my tartle army! We can do this!

    cromercrox, that is an outstanding definition and should be in the dictionary.

    chezjake, I love that approach! I might try it at hubby’s next work party :)

  7. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    UPDATE: it has been decreed that the online version shall heretoforth be known as Twartling

  8. Mike says:

    Great word – invaluable! But never heard once in my formative years. Srsly, 24 years in Scotchland and I never once heard anyone utter this word. “Common” it ain’t, at least not in the Central belt.

    I reckon it’s roots are a polite form of “brain fart” and a really polite form of “Ahm such a fuppin diddy, ah’ve goan an forgot yer name”.

  9. Grant says:

    “UPDATE: it has been decreed that the online version shall heretoforth be known as Twartling”

    Twitter is beginning to rule everything.

    I get a similar forgetting of names, compounded with a tactical problem from being hard-of-hearing (or deaf, if that’s simpler). Convention is that you’re supposed to face the person I’m being introduced to, which leaves me not looking at the person giving their name so quite likely I won’t hear their name at all – I often need lip-reading to help me out, especially if the setting is noisy. So they get a plain “hello” from me and I hope like heck I’d catch their name at some later point.

    I also discovered as a student at Cambridge that one group of people who this generally is not such an issue are Americans, who—at least in my limited experience—have a useful habit of introducing themselves to you straight after the third party has introduced them to me. As they are facing them when they give their name, I usually get it!

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Interesting – I’ve never noticed a difference, but then it’s not hearing the name at the time of first introduction that I have a problem with!

  10. Nina says:

    Life should be a conference, everyone wearing nametags all the time, with their first name, last name, nickname, country of origin and country of residence. Birthdate optional.

  11. Grant says:

    Nina, I’m sure tech types will suggest we’ll all be bumping cell phones to exchange names in a few years. (Eurgh.)

    One more: you know that thing where the person can’t quite read your name tag and leans in close over your chest to read it…

  12. Nina says:

    ok, how about tattooing your name onto your forehead?

  13. Grant says:

    How about a sub-dermal name implant invisible when not active that glows when triggered by trained neural signals beaming your name to the people opposite you?

    Failing that we could all wear electrode scalp caps that carry a flip up sign… (Taking as my cue the brain-computer interfaces emotiv and others are marketing.)

  14. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Sign me up for the nametags, and possibly the phone bumping! Leave me out of the tattooing and implanting please, though – tartling isn’t quite embarrassing enough to necessitate such drastic measures!

  15. I am late to this party tarty, but I am a tartleur of great skill and speed. Approximately five seconds is plenty of time for me to forget somebody’s name. And I had neighbours who could greet me by name, next to whom I’d lived for 12 years. I finally had their names nailed about 3 months before they moved away.

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