If any holiday deserves more attention, it's World Thinking Day. You don't have to be a supergenius to notice the lack of thought that goes into pretty much everything.
The drivers who speed like maniacs aren't thinking. The dog owners who don't pick up after their pooches aren't thinking. The internet trolls making everyone miserable aren't thinking. We need more thinking and less numbskullery.
Fortunately, February 22 is World Thinking Day: a time to ponder the virtues of using your melon. We have the Girl Scouts to thank for this holiday; they were the only group thoughtful enough to devote a whole day to thinking.
Tellingly, most of these terms involve thinking about something for longer than a commercial break, maybe because that's the nature of thinking. If you think about something for three nanoseconds, is that really thinking? Maybe it is, I'm no neurologist or telepathic mutant.
Anyway, enjoy these thought-provoking words. For more, check out this list: Think Tank.
Ever see the statue called The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin? The person is seated, hand on chin, pondering. To ponder is to think about something carefully, and that usually takes a while. Someone might ponder a new career or a move to a new country. On the other hand, you can ponder anything. At coffee shops, I always seem to be behind someone pondering their latte choice for 10 minutes.
When it comes to cows, ruminating involves chewing the cud: food that's already digested, gross. When it comes to people, ruminating is also about chewing things over, but not in your mouth. Ruminating is about thinking and rethinking: it could even lead to overthinking. This word is a close synonym of ponder, deliberate, and mull.
This is a fancy word for thinking hard: cogitating gives your brain a workout. This is a Latinate word with plenty of relatives in English, such as the adjective cognitive, which describes anything related to the mind. Cognition refers to a whole bunch of mental stuff: thinking, remembering, knowing, imagining. If you're using your brain to perceive and understand the world, you're reaping the benefits of cognition. Also, you can recognize the Latin root in recognize, a word with a brainy meaning.
This word has a few closely related meanings. To meditate can mean to think hard about just about anything. But more often, meditation has a spiritual or religious sense. Many religions, such as Zen Buddhism, have a tradition of meditating. Rules vary, but meditation usually involves taking a close look at your own thoughts. Mindfulness is popular these days, and it involves meditating without any particular religious or spiritual aspect. Taking some time to slow down and pay attention to your own thoughts is good for you no matter why you're doing it.
Contemplating is a little like meditating, but without the spiritual aspect, usually. You can look in the sky and contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and where all the aliens are. You can read a novel and then contemplate what the author was trying to say. You can contemplate a painting and wonder how many zillions of dollars it's worth. This is partly a visual word: the earliest uses were about looking at something, and then the meaning shifted to thinking about something. So when you're looking and thinking, this is the perfect word.
To muse is to contemplate something deeply: musing is a long-term commitment. Another sense of this word is a noun referring to someone who inspires an artist.
When you see your reflection in a mirror, you get an objective look at yourself. The reflection shows how you really look. Similarly, when you reflect on something, you think about it, examine it, and otherwise rattle it around your noggin. We usually reflect on things in the past, like an old experience, friendship, job, or pet. Reflecting can easily lead to reminiscing.
Deliberating is a type of thinking, but not the fast kind. When you deliberate, you think about something in depth, looking at all the angles. You ponder and mull and cogitate and don't rush into a decision. This is why we also say a jury deliberates.
This is another word for the kind of thinking that takes some time. When you mull, you ponder something for a while. You can mull over a job offer, a new purchase, a voting decision, or anything that requires some thought. Mulling is deep thinking. The origin of mull is uncertain, but it might be related to a sense of mull as meaning a muddle or mess. My thoughts can be a muddle for sure.
Use these words thoughtfully!
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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