Word of the Week: PONDERISM

23/02/2013 21:33

This semester has been kicked off, so let's move full steam ahead with something linguistics, too! In the following weeks, we will bring you a set of words which are interesting either from the translator's/interpreter’s point of view or from the perspective of any English language enthusiast in general. May these seeds be worthy of a good soil that our faculty offers!


            Have you ever heard of a ponderism? Well, in my humble definition it is a kind of a bridge between a joke and a witty word play, not far from a pun, and quite close to a re-evaluation of an axiom; sometimes it is an incorrectly (even world-widely) understood rhetorical question and rarely an impressive thought. For most people, however, it is just a poor and lame attempt at “pondering” matters that have not mattered to anyone else before. But still, a few people do not take things for granted and actually think about what they say. These then “ponder” evident things, racking their brains with something they thought was as clear as day, but which turned out not to be so crystal clear after all.

            Ponderism is a new word in English. Not a single dictionary knows it and even the online urban dictionary is behind the curve. The word has obviously been derived from the verb ponder meaning to consider, contemplate, or deliberate.  It could perhaps be that until today nobody needed to name the activity of  thinking of such ordinary and tedious things as everybody had been busy with the more difficult and tricky linguistic stuff. However, in the 21st century when we discovered the paradoxical basics of the language that we have already been exploring for hundreds of years, we suddenly need a word for the discovery...

            So let's illustrate our word of the week with some examples from Richard Lederer 's Crazy English:

  • There is no egg in eggplant or ham in hamburger, neither apple nor pine in pineapple.
  • Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.
  • English muffins were not invented in England or french fries in France.
  • And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham?
  • If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?
  • If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So, one moose, 2 meese? Is cheese the plural of choose?
  • How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?
  • When a house burns up, it burns down.

            And now, we are keenly expecting from you, our dear linguists, swamping us with the products of your thoughts and suggestions, a name for ponderism in Slovak!  

            Craving for more ponderisms? Find more at https://www.boreme.com/posting.php?id=5313.


Zuzana Rajčáková

[1] LEDERER, Richard. 1989. Crazy English. Pocket Books, New York. 1989.  ISBN 0-671-02323-3. Excerpts from the first chapter of English Is a Crazy Language.



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