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I'm not sure whether this can explain your crossword experience, but perseveration is a fairly well-studied phenomenon in word production. Individuals with aphasia (a neurogenic language disorder) often exhibit perseveration errors in tasks like picture naming. For example, imagine trial N is a picture of a dog and the participant responds "dog" (correct) ...
Anomic aphasia, also known as dysnomia, nominal aphasia, and amnesic aphasia; is a severe problem with recalling words or names. Wikipedia is a good source of info on the subject. Severe cases sometimes are traced back to a blow and subsequent damage to the left side of the brain.
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