Negative-toned "ruminate"?

ddr11 ddr11 at UVIC.CA
Tue Jan 15 19:02:03 UTC 2013

The New York Times obituary of psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema
contains this sentence:

"Her studies, first in children and later in adults, exposed one of the
most deceptively upsetting of these patterns: rumination, the natural
instinct to dwell on the sources of problems rather than their possible

This negative-toned sense of "ruminate" seems to be a term of art.  It's
mentioned a few more times in the obituary, and I've heard from another
person who had psychological training.

A conversation with someone younger (31) than me (47) about this obit
unexpectedly showed that my collocutor was amazed that I was surprised
"ruminate" would default to a negative sense.  For me, the word has always
had pretty neutral connotations.  (Unlike its native English synonym,
"chew one's cud", which can be used insultingly.)

I only have 10 English dictionaries, but none of them shows a negative
sense for "ruminate".  The Corpus of Historical American English 1810-2009
(COHA) online shows many examples; they range from "ruminate with
pleasure" to neutral "ruminating" while relaxing after dinner to
"ruminating" upon disasters.  This breadth of use suggests the
fundamentally neutral sense of the word to me.

Is the negative-toned use a newer one?  Is it attributable to Dr.
Nolen-Hoeksema's work?

David D. Robertson
PhD 2012, Dept of Linguistics, University of Victoria
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