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How to Survive When You Open Your Mouth at the Wrong Time

Updated on August 23, 2013

Foolishness always results when the tongue outraces the brain.

~Author Unknown

There is nothing more embarrassing than the realisation that your mouth has spouted out some form of humiliating verbal howler.

But it's not just words that can cause us to plead for the ground to open up and swallow us whole. Our actions can also cause the most mortifying moments in our lives.

When the realisation dawns that we have blundered, what can we do to gain our composure and restore our self esteem?

Opening our mouths at the wrong time can have devastating consequences both personally and socially.
Opening our mouths at the wrong time can have devastating consequences both personally and socially. | Source
Be careful of who you speak to and what you say.
Be careful of who you speak to and what you say. | Source

Danger Situations

I just wish my mouth had a backspace key.

~Author Unknown

It might be helpful to identify the circumstances when it’s more likely to say something embarrassing.

The following situations are just a few that could be termed red zones:

  • At social gatherings where most of the people are unknown to you.

Be careful about who you speak to and what you say. For example, when speaking to someone, don't make critical comments about other guests – the person you are speaking to could be related/a friend of the guest you are talking about.

  • Alcohol

Alcohol loosens the tongue to a lethal degree as I'm sure most of us know to our cost. What is worse, alcohol often makes you feel like you are acting very sophisticated and intelligent, when in fact the opposite is true.

  • When you’re nervous.

Anxiety can often make your tongue race well ahead of your brain. When nervous, many of us tend to talk too fast and without really thinking about what we are saying. We are trying so hard not to look and sound foolish, that unfortunately we end up doing just that.

It's the same with our actions. Nerves will lead you to be more accident-prone in any environment.

  • Talking to the wrong kinds of people.

For example gossipers and loud mouths - these kinds of people always make social gaffs deliberately or otherwise. If you happen to be in their company when they are involved in slagging someone, it's very difficult for you to look totally innocent.

  • Trying to make an impression.

Don't try too hard. Be honest about yourself. Speak frankly and truthfully about your achievements. But be wary about building yourself up to an improbable degree. It could back-fire making you look big-headed and immature.

Gossip is not ever harmless, it has the capacity to hurt someone.
Gossip is not ever harmless, it has the capacity to hurt someone. | Source

How to cope when you've said or done the wrong thing

“The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” ~Dorothy Nevill

There are a few strategies that you can use when you land yourself in an awkward situation:

Minor Mistakes

These might be things such as:

  • You get a person's name wrong or forgetting their name.
  • Mispronounce names or words while doing a speech/talking to company.
  • A joke has back-fired and the only response to the punch line is lowered eyes and silence from the people around you.
  • Letting out an unintentional swear word in an inappropriate place.

Handling minor mistakes

Forgetting names/mispronouncing names can be very embarrassing for both parties.

If you forget someone's name, you can say something such as:

  • "Sorry I didn't quite catch your name earlier" or similar.

If you mispronounce a name you simply apologise for the error and practice the name in your head, especially if you are required to introduce the person to others.

Another good way to help yourself in this situation is to be very honest with the person and say something like:

  • “That’s a very distinct name; could you pronounce it for me slowly so that I get it right?”

If you just can't get the name right then you're going to have to try a cop out such as:

  • "There's an urgent phone call, can I leave you two to introduce yourselves?" Or get someone else to do the introductions.

Often the best thing to do with minor mishaps is to ignore the situation and carry on as if nothing has happened.

Alternatively, just change the subject. This is a good strategy if your attempt at humour is not accepted well or if you had inadvertently let out a swear word.

Another strategy is to excuse your self and leave the area. Go somewhere quiet. Take a deep breath. Hold your head high. Square your shoulders and carry on.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Even the most confident and successful people make a fool of themselves at some time.

Serious Mistakes

These can be difficult to deal with and some situations need delicate handling. Very often the only thing you can do is to give a sincere apology. Then learn from the experience. Some examples might be:

You've been caught out in a lie.

Be honest about it. Come clean and apologise. Don't make excuses. If you had a legitimate reason for the lie - for example you felt uncomfortable telling the truth or you believed a lie would spare people's feelings - then give a clear explanation of this.

You're caught saying something uncomplimentary about a person who has just overheard you.

Even if you think you have just cause for your remarks, don't make excuses. Apologise to the person and make assurances that it won't happen again. If you have a problem with someone this should be said only to the person concerned and in private. This is a situation that is not recoverable in a matter of minutes or days. It could take significantly longer.

While talking to a stranger, you make a callous remark about another person only to find out that they are related/friends of the stranger.

There is only one thing you can do - apart from squirming - and that is to apologise. Keep it short and simple, but sincere. Excuse yourself and leave the room.

What Not To Do

  • When you are apologising for some blunder, don't grovel and creep. Firstly, you will lose not only your self-respect but the respect of most other people. Secondly, grovelling is false and gives the impression, not of a heartfelt apology, but as an act to sooth your guilty feelings.
  • When you have apologised or made other amends, drop the subject forever. Don't beat yourself over the head for months to come because of a mistake. You are only human and we all make mistakes.
  • Don't ever try to pass the blame onto someone else or implicate another person. This is one sure fire way to loose all respect from everyone involved. Not only that, even if you manage to build bridges later on, when you get a reputation for trying to blame others, this tends to be remembered for a very long time.

Verbal Mistakes

Have you ever made a glaring blunder while speaking to other people?

See results

Quotes and Spoonerisms

Below are some of the most common slips of the tongue - or to use the proper name - spoonerisms. I've also included some quotes about that most devious of body parts, the tongue.

Common slips of the tongue

  • sealing the hick - healing the sick
  • go help me sod - so help me God
  • pit nicking - nit picking
  • nicking your pose - picking your nose
  • you have very mad banners - you have very bad manners
  • lack of pies - pack of lies
  • our queer old Dean - our dear old Queen
  • we'll have the hags flung out - we'll have the flags hung out

Quotes of Wisdom

  • I have often repented speaking, but never of holding my tongue - Xenocrates of Chalcedon
  • In nine times out of ten, the slanderous tongue belongs to a disappointed person - George Bancroft
  • Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage - Publilius Syrus
  • Listen or your tongue will keep you deaf - Native American Proverb
  • Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands - Jewish Proverb
  • Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue; to the end we should hear and see more than we speak - Greek Proverb

I hope you've found something that is useful to you in this article. In addition, if you have any experiences you would like to share with us, please let us know through the comments section.

©Seeker7/H M Howell August, 2013


Submit a Comment

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LMAO!!! 'Foot and mouth'!! How cruel they are! I hope my family never catch sight of that nickname because they will use it for me - we must be kindred souls as regards mouths and words, because I have a nack of letting my tongue go where it has no business going! Many thanks for stopping by.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

    Hi, •Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage - that's the best quote! ha ha I shall have to try it! I am the worst person in the world for opening my mouth and putting my foot in it, my family call me 'foot and mouth' lol great hub, really enjoyed it, cheers nell

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Victoria Lynn, many thanks for stopping by. I was very impressed with your profile as well and of course your writing.

    I also wish - more times than I care to remember - that I had a backspace key for my mouth, but somethings we never learn alas!

  • Victoria Lynn profile image

    Victoria Lynn 6 years ago from Arkansas, USA

    Awesome and funny!Great stories! Our mouths really should have backspace. Great hub. I also like what you said on your profile page about not liking intolerance. I agree, totally. I like what you said about several things and what I read here, and plan to follow you more! Thanks!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kyle,

    Lovely to hear from you and many thanks for the nice comment. I have to admit something, that this was one of the easiest hubs I've written. Why? Because I've had so much experience of putting my foot in it that I could almost write this article without thinking too much.

    Many thanks again and really glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • Kyle Rivers profile image

    Kyle Rivers 6 years ago from Detroit, Michigan

    Seeker!!! I found this to hub remarkably hilarious! I don't know how many times I've caught myself in these situations where I done said something, and had my "Twix" moment lol. Overall this was a very well written hub. You had me smiling from start to finish. By the way ...Thanks for the follow!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi KateWest,

    Many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • KateWest profile image

    KateWest 6 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

    Thanks for the fun read!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ravenlt04, great to hear from you and many thanks for leaving such a lovely comment. I'm glad that you enjoyed the hub, many thanks for stopping by.

  • ravenlt04 profile image

    ravenlt04 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

    This is super cute, thorough, and hilarious! Thanks for sharing this! Great tips! Great hub idea!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    1. Hi SeriousNuts - you're right! When I was writing this hub I was painfully reminded of the times my mouth opened without any pre-thought or judgement - not a pleasant experience. Many thanks for stopping by, it's always great to hear from you and view your comments.

    2. Hi Minnetonka Twin - lovely to hear from you. I'm really glad that you enjoyed the hub. I think for most blunders it would be best to laugh them off whenever possible, I think you make a quicker recovery from foolishness when we can do that. Many thanks for stopping by.

    3. Hi, Jo_Goldsmith. I'm like you Jo - there are so many times that I wish I could have taken words back, but as I say in the hub, once they're out that's it. I love slips of the tongues as well. No matter how many times I read them they always make me laugh! Many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a nice comment.

  • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

    Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

    I guess I understand now what evergreen is. This sure is one great hub. I find myself wishing I had a backspace key for my mouth, a time or two. loved the quotes, the way you mentioned saying "pit nicking" instead of "nit picking" voted up. good for you! :-)

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 6 years ago from Minnesota

    What an entertaining hub, seeker. I especially enjoyed the true stories of blunders. I think most of us have plenty of these stories to share. Thanks for making me smile and laugh:)

  • seriousnuts profile image

    seriousnuts 6 years ago from Philippines

    Hi Seeker7, great hub! and hilarious! We all experience social blunders at some point in our lives. Your article is a great reminder for us to be more cautious, and most importantly, to just laugh our mistakes off when these moments do happen and move on. Voted up and funny.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Kitty,

    Great to hear from you and many thanks for stopping by. I'm better now, but when much younger I did seem to go through a phase where everyday was 'plonker' day! But I don't seem to have very many of those days now. Maybe your tongue slows down with maturity as well as all the other bits? Anyway, many thanks again for visiting and for the lovely comment. Much appreciated.

  • kittythedreamer profile image

    Nicole Canfield 6 years ago from the Ether

    Seeker7 - Voted up and funny! I think we have all done this at some point in our lives...I think I just did one this morning! LOL. You've provided some great tips for the diarrhea-mouthed folks, though! Good job and so well-written. Loved the choice of pictures, too.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    1. Hi LeeLee, Soooo glad you liked the hub!!! Do you know, I think of myself as fairly intelligent, but at the same time I am incredibly stupid!!! I'm like you, I don't honestly know how many times I've put my big clodding feet into something, when I should have thought first, talked second! Luckily most of it was harmless, but god I am a dumbo at times!!! Anyway, great to hear from you again - hope the writing is going ok!!

    2. Hi catgypsy, great to hear from you and glad that you liked the hub. I agree with you!!! No matter how stupidly I have acted or felt it is a great relief to know that I'm not the only dumb-ass on the planet. Lovely to hear from you.

  • catgypsy profile image

    catgypsy 6 years ago from the South

    This was so funny! We've all been there, but it's nice to be reminded we aren't the only fools on earth! Great Hub!

  • Mrs. J. B. profile image

    Mrs. J. B. 6 years ago from Southern California

    LMAO... My shoe and mouth size are both 5 1/2... I have stuck my foor in mouth so many times I could be in the circus... You know that good ol' OOPS!!!

    Great hub. Who told you about me?


    LeeLee aka Mrs. J. B.

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Just Ask Susan,

    It's always great to hear from you and thank you for the very positive comment. I have to say that many times during the writing of this hub I was blushing - due to the memories of my own foul ups over the years! And yes, I have put 'both feet' in on many occasions. LOL. Many thanks again for stopping by.

  • Just Ask Susan profile image

    Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

    I really enjoyed reading your hub :) Great Job! I am so bad at times that I just say "Open mouth, insert both feet" :)

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi GracieLake,

    Many thanks for stopping by and for leaving such a lovely comment - I really do appreciate it. I think laughter is certainly the best medicine - even when we're mortified at the time, having a laugh about it later does help to get over the embarrassment.

  • GracieLake profile image

    GracieLake 6 years ago from Arizona

    Wow. You've covered this topic very well! It's nice to have a laugh about some of our common foibles. We need a big UNDO button, particularly for those smart phone texting errors!

  • Seeker7 profile image

    Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    1. Hi CMHypno, many thanks for stopping by and for your kind comment. I agree with you, if someone is nervous and they have made a boob, I tend to just ignore it, laugh with them or just change the subject - I know what making a fool of yourself can feel like - awful!

    Many thanks again.

    2. Hi blueorpurple - many thanks for your lovely comment - I am really thrilled that you liked this so much. It's always a pleasure to here from you - many thanks! I'm making the rounds of all my followers, so I hope to stop by your 'place' soon!!! LOL!

    3. Hi elnavann - I agree with you I can't remember the amount of times I've buried my head in the pillow wishing I could turn back the clock and re-say or re-do what was done. But you do learn from experience, even humiliating ones, if you want to, so every mistake can have a positive outcome. Many thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to leave a comment. It is really appreciated.

  • elnavann profile image

    elnavann 6 years ago from South Africa

    Ah yes - I had some of those moments which caused me to hide my head in my pillow - even now after 20 years

  • blueorpurple profile image

    blueorpurple 6 years ago

    wow wow wow.. what can i say more.... hope this hub get 100 score some day

  • CMHypno profile image

    CMHypno 6 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

    These things happen to us all, and I think that the best thing to do usually is laugh about it. If people know that someone is really nervous, I think that it is just kinder to ignore any nervous gaffes or try and gently nudge them back into safer territory