Thinking Deeply With Merriam-Webster

by Kevin Burton

   My friend and co-worker on my college newspaper Tim, once suggested that thinking become a new sport.  That’s something that should really be pursued.  

    In this thinksport, there should be a penalty for speaking without thinking.

   Maybe I’ll continue this thought later. For now, I want to share some words about thinking from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s website. They wrote this article under the headline “Galaxy Brain,” which definitely got my attention. 

   “Thinker” is one of my favorite labels that people have tried to stick on me over the years.  Here are some words the dictionary compiled for the deep thinkers of the world:

   Muse. “To muse is to ponder or to think, and since the Muses are the source of inspiration for poetry, art, comedy, music, and dance in ancient Greek religion and myth, it might make sense to think of them also as the inspiration for deep thoughts. Except that they aren’t.”

   “The muse that is the noun meaning “a source of inspiration” or, when capitalized, one of the nine Muses, indeed comes from the Greek name for them, which passed through Latin and French to English.”

   “But the muse that is the verb meaning “to become absorbed in thought” comes from a different source: the Middle French word muse, meaning “the mouth of an animal” or “snout.” It’s assumed that the facial expression when one is thinking is what connects this word to absorption and reflection, and that the French verb had come to mean “to gape, to stare, to idle, to muse” because of the face one makes when lost in thought.

Though it may not share etymological roots with the Muses, the verb muse does have a relative in English that connects in a more literal way with their shared past: muzzle.”

   Ponder “When we ponder, we think carefully about something. Another synonym is weigh, as in “to weigh a serious decision”—a word that connects with ponder more literally than you may think. Ponder came to English from a French word with the same meaning, ponderer, but its ultimate root is the Latin word pondus, meaning “weight.”

   “Weigh and weight come from Old English and ponder comes from Latin through French. Other common words that derive from pondus have to do with things that are hanging, heavy, or a unit of weight itself: pendant ponderous pound.”

   Cogitate “Because we cannot see thoughts, the words we use to describe the process of thinking are usually figurative, like the difference in the uses of active in “running to keep active” and “an active imagination.” We often “turn over” an idea. Thoughts can nevertheless be (figuratively) agitating, which gets us to the root of cogitate.” 

   “Cogitate means “to think carefully and seriously about something,” and it comes from the Latin cogitare (“to think”), itself formed from the combination of ¬co- meaning “together” and agitare meaning “to drive” or “to agitate”—the root of agitate in English and, in this case, another figurative use of language, since it could also mean “to turn over in the mind” in Latin.”

   “Cogitate became the Latin-based verb synonym for the Old English-derived think, and cogitation the synonym for the noun thought.”

  Ruminate “Sometimes we “weigh” thoughts, sometimes we “turn them over,” and other times they give us something to “chew on.” At least that’s what the verb ruminate literally means: it comes from the Latin word ruminari, meaning “to chew the cud,” as in what cows do.”

   “Ruminari comes from the Latin word for the cow’s first stomach, rumen, and is also the root of the word for the category of mammals that have 3- or 4-chambered stomachs and two-toed feet, ruminants, which includes cattle, deer, giraffes, goats, and sheep.”

   “Ruminate has been used as a fancy way to say “to think about” since the Renaissance in the 1500s, at a time when academic and philosophical writing was usually done by people with a strong background in Latin.”

   Ideate “We distinguish between thoughts and ideas, and unsurprisingly, there are verbs in English for producing both. The usage of these verbs, however, is extremely imbalanced: think is, of course, a fundamental part of our vocabulary and is very frequently used, but ideate is not.”

   “You might think that ideate is simply some kind of annoying recent business jargon, but in fact its use in English dates back to the 1600s, when it referred to Platonic philosophy, meaning “to form an idea or conception of.” When referring to an abstract or perfect example of something, we also use a word related to ideaPlatonic ideal.”

   “Another related word is ideation, meaning “the capacity or the act of forming or entertaining ideas.” This word is used in specific contexts, such as in psychological assessments (“suicidal ideation”) and the creative aspect of technical jobs (“software-based ideation,” “digital strategy, ideation, and innovation.”)

   “The fact is, ideate means something slightly different from think, since it expresses a clear goal: “to form an idea.” This is a useful distinction in fields like design and information technology.”

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