Word salad is a type of dysfunctional language, sometimes seen in those with schizophrenia, consisting of an odd mix of seemingly random words and phrases.

Schizophrenia is a complex psychiatric disorder that affects how a person interprets reality.

Though most schizophrenia symptoms involve some level of thought and communication dysfunction, these difficulties seem to manifest at their most extreme in formal thought disorder (or simply thought disorder), a state of highly disorganized thinking and speaking.

In severe cases, thought disorder presents as “word salad,” in which the speaker’s words have no discernible meaning to others and seem completely disconnected from reality.

“Word salad” is a term used to describe a severe form of disorganized thinking and speaking.

It occurs in people with serious psychiatric or neurological conditions, such as dementia, bipolar mania, brain injury, or schizophrenia.

In schizophrenia, it’s called schizophasia and falls under the term “formal thought disorder,” a common symptom of psychosis. Research suggests that thought disorder is associated with greater illness severity.

People who speak in word salad are unaware that they’re not making sense to other people.

In the mind of someone with word salad, every word or syllable may have a special meaning or connection to another word or syllable.

They may even feel like they’re talking in a type of code. Words and phrases are loosely associated with one another but don’t actually form a coherent thought.

Word salad often occurs in the following related conditions:

  • Clanging. Putting words together based on rhymes and other sound associations rather than meaning.
  • Graphorrhea. Incoherent writing with excessive wordiness.
  • Receptive aphasia. Fluent in speech but still not making sense.
  • Logorrhea. Excessive incoherent talking.

Word salad gets its name from the odd mix of words and phrases that people with this condition use to express themselves.

Below are some symptoms of word salad/schizophasia:

  • excessive, incoherent talking or writing
  • using repetitive words or phrases
  • using a long string of words that lack a coherent thought or idea
  • speaking in rhymes, sounds, or alliterations rather than meaning
  • speaker may believe that syllables and words have special meaning

Examples of word salad speech

People who speak in word salad often believe they’re making deeper associations with syllables and words. These phrases make no sense to others, but they often make perfect sense to the person at that time.

Some people who’ve spoken in word salad say they feel like they were speaking in a coded language. Each word and syllable had a special meaning or code.

For instance, take the word “cab.” A person with word salad might separate the “C” from the “ab.” Then turn the C into “see” and the “ab” into lab, and say “see lab” in place of the word “cab.”

They may also use homophones. They might change “piece” to “peace.” Or “bury” to “berry.”

Here are a few examples of word salad:

  • Bags stain purple vacuum.
  • Running lately people purpose purple.
  • Too often sleeping blankets.
  • Soggy sadness makes good carefree.
  • Markets make fake take tickets.

Researchers have long attempted to understand what’s happening in the brain during word salad or thought disorder in general. But the answer remains unclear.

A growing body of evidence has suggested that people with thought disorder seem to show abnormal or less activity in the temporal lobes.

The temporal lobes are believed to play an important role in encoding memories and in processing emotions, language, and auditory information.

Research over the last several decades suggests that formal thought disorder may be due to structural differences in the brain since atypical activation has been shown in brain regions involved in the following:

  • language and speech processing
  • higher-order cognitive functions like object recall, selective attention, evaluating, and decision-making
  • auditory perception
  • social interaction

Word salad often also includes, according to a 2022 study, hallucination and delusion elements.

In general, disordered thinking may become more severe when a person is under stress or is triggered by too much stimuli.

Treating word salad involves treating the underlying disorder — in this case, schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia is often managed with the following treatments:

  • Atypical antipsychotics: These medications are the first line of treatment for schizophrenia. Atypical antipsychotics lower dopamine levels in the brain, which can help manage positive symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking.
  • Cognitive remediation: This intervention targets skills such as attention, memory and flexible thinking, aspects of cognition that tend to decline in schizophrenia.
  • Social cognition training: This intervention helps improve emotion perception (identifying others’ emotions), social perception (understanding social cues or body language), and theory of mind (understanding others’ mental states).
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT teaches a variety of coping skills to help you identify and fix inaccurate thought patterns. In schizophrenia, CBT might target thoughts related to both the positive symptoms, such as hearing voices, and the negative symptoms, such as social withdrawal.

Word salad is a severe form of formal thought disorder, a feature in schizophrenia that causes a disturbance in how thoughts are organized and expressed.

In word salad, words and phrases may be loosely associated with one another but don’t actually form a coherent thought.

People who speak in word salad don’t realize they’re not making sense to others. They may feel like they’re speaking in a “deeper,” more connected form of language.

Researchers are working hard to better understand what causes word salad in schizophrenia. As our knowledge grows, treatments will become more effective.