Think Tank: Thought-Provoking Vocabulary

There are many different ways to think a thought, and we reckon you'll want to learn them all. From cogitate to contemplate, mull to muse — here's an assortment of terms to add to your thought process.

Check out the related article: Ponder the Vocabulary of World Thinking Day.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. cogitate
    consider carefully and deeply
    When he’s cogitating on a diagnosis, he goes blank, like a computer app in spinning-wheel mode, and the show suspends the tension long enough that you, like his colleagues, wonder if something’s gone wrong.New York Times (Nov 12, 2017)
    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. Also, you can recognize the Latin root in recognize, a word with a brainy meaning.
  2. consider
    think about carefully; weigh
    While the Brees announcement is a big one given he was reportedly considering retirement, it's hardly as massive as the eventual Brady announcement will be.Golf Digest (Feb 18, 2020)
  3. contemplate
    think intently and at length, as for spiritual purposes
    On Super Bowl Sunday, less than 24 hours after his UW visit, the Bothell running back turned off his phone, sat in his room and contemplated his future … by considering his past.Seattle Times (Feb 14, 2020)
    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.
  4. deduce
    reason from the general to the particular
    From DNA recovered from the bones, researchers deduced that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals some 60,000 years ago, after leaving Africa.New York Times (Jan 31, 2020)
  5. deliberate
    think about carefully; weigh
    The Chinese parliament’s top committee will next week deliberate on a proposed delay of the parliament’s own March session, the official Xinhua news agency reported earlier on Monday.Reuters (Feb 17, 2020)
    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.
  6. meditate
    reflect deeply on a subject
    Sit with your thoughts, meditate, journal, pray — whatever centers you.Seattle Times (Jan 9, 2020)
    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.
  7. mull
    reflect deeply on a subject
    While some of his counterparts around the country mulled over their decisions, Smith began his offseason work.Washington Post (Feb 14, 2020)
    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 that means a muddle or mess.
  8. muse
    reflect deeply on a subject
    In his memoir, Gibbs mused about his success as a soldier.Washington Times (Feb 1, 2020)
    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.
  9. ponder
    reflect deeply on a subject
    Myers took a moment Friday and pondered just how fast things change in professional sports.Seattle Times (Feb 7, 2020)
    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.
  10. reason
    a logical motive for a belief or action
    Some reasoned that it was such an inexpensive program: Only 50 warheads would be modified to the low-yield version, at a cost of $65 million, less than 0.1 percent of the entire defense budget.Slate (Feb 18, 2020)
  11. reckon
    expect, believe, or suppose
    He reckons it’s just the fine details he needs to work on, and a bit of reshaping after honing his game specifically for the hard surface.Seattle Times (Feb 2, 2020)
  12. reflect
    think deeply on a subject
    Though the modern observance of President’s Day, the third Monday of February, is more general in nature, most still use the occasion to reflect on the contributions of Washington and Lincoln.Fox News (Feb 16, 2020)
    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.
  13. reminisce
    recall the past
    Don’t reminisce about the way “things used to be done.”Seattle Times (Jan 23, 2020)
  14. ruminate
    reflect deeply on a subject
    The only other solution seems so lame it is difficult to write: find a way to stop ruminating, to think outside ourselves.The Guardian (Dec 30, 2019)
    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.
  15. suppose
    expect or believe
    Alex hears a swallow across the line, and Henry says, “I suppose so. Thank you. For listening.”Red, White & Royal Blue
  16. theorize
    believe, especially on uncertain or tentative grounds
    But Professor Steptoe said researchers theorized that people who expose themselves to the arts are likely to be more engaged in the world.New York Times (Dec 22, 2019)
Created on February 18, 2020 (updated February 18, 2020)

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