Definitions

Was I stammering or stuttering? Is there a difference between the two?

According to the Meriam-Webster dictionary the verb stammer means “to speak with many pauses and repetitions because you have a speech problem or because you are very nervous, frightened, etc.” and the definition for to stutter is: “to speak with involuntary disruption or blocking of speech (as by spasmodic repetition or prolongation of vocal sounds).”

Dictionary.com definitions are very similar, but the other way around.

Often when I'm tired, I repeat the beginning of words such as “do-do-don't” or “me-me-means.” It's like there's a time lag between hearing the sound in my head and my brain processing it, as if the signals from my brain are too slow. I know they'll reach their destination shortly—I'll get it after two or three repetitions. I'm not anxious or panicky while it happens. Though sometimes, I get a tad frustrated, especially if it keeps happening within a conversation.

A couple of weeks ago something else happened. To an outsider it may have sounded the same—a repetition of the beginning of a word. But it felt very different. It felt as if there was a complete disconnect between the signals in my brain and the muscles in my chest, or somewhere nearby. The sensation was akin to that when you need to vomit but you can't, something isn't working right, something is blocking the muscles in your throat from following through on the gag reflex.

I wasn't able to utter the “fi” sound as in finish, no matter how hard I tried. I could say the “f” but got stuck on the “i.” On the other hand, I was fine with “fa” as in far or “foo” as in fool. I had no idea there was a different form of this repetition. Was that why there were two words for the phenomenon? Stutter and stammer?

According to some dictionaries, they were synonyms, whereas others claimed there was a difference, that there were two forms, representative of my own experiences. But there was no consensus as to which word meant which.

I looked them up on medical-type sites. On medicalnewstoday.com I found the following statement: “Stammering and stuttering have the same meaning—it is a speech disorder in which the person repeats or prolongs words, syllables or phrases. The person with a stutter may also stop during speech and make no sound for certain syllables.”

According to the website there are two types of stuttering/stammering. There's developmental stuttering (associated with children), where stutterers races along at the same speed as what they want to say. Though developmental stuttering was clearly a misnomer in my case, this description felt right for my usual type of stuttering.

There's also Neurogenic stuttering, when the signals between the brain and speech nerves and muscles are not working properly, which may affect adults after a stroke or some brain injury. That was it! That was what I experienced!

In addition, according to the site, “psychological factors may make stuttering worse for people who stutter, such as stress, embarrassment, etc.”

It's possible that anxiety plays a role in my usual form of stuttering, though I would associate it more with frustration. It certainly wasn't the case with the second form I experienced. In fact, whenever it happened, I'd pause, baffled. Why was I stuck? It seemed that something was blocking me from getting beyond the “f” sound.

I've felt that kind of sensation when suffering from severe overload, when I'm frozen and can't speak. As hard as I try, I just can't move or communicate. In those situations, my mind is all over the place, and mostly, I feel frustration and fear. When I can't swallow, panic is my main emotion—I know I can die if I don't swallow.

I was on the phone to Cindy (for a change) when I experienced the neurogenic stuttering. I was neither scared nor frustrated—I was curious. As if I was undergoing a scientific experiment.

That bloody brain, always up to something, so full of surprises.