Negative-toned "ruminate"?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jan 15 20:29:10 UTC 2013

OED, s.v. "ruminate", 2c:

Psychiatry. To have obsessive thoughts. See rumination n. 1c.

1966   Psychiatric Q. 40 479   The patient began to ruminate psychotically.
1990   M. Shepherd Conceptual Issues in Psychol. Med. iii. 130   He admitted that he was unable to prevent himself from ruminating on past events though he realized that he was distressing himself.
2005   M. Mathews et al. Psychiatry iii. 63   The patient has been ruminating about suicide and guilt feelings.

rumination, 1c:

Psychiatry. Obsessive repetition of the same thoughts to a degree which interferes with normal psychological functioning. Also: an instance of this.

1922   Amer. Jrnl. Psychiatry Jan. 326   We also find the ‘mental rumination’ which I have described as existing in cases of psychasthenia.
1942   Jrnl. Nerv. & Mental Dis. 95 121   Keeping people busy and occupied was one of the best ways of preventing mental breakdown after facing tragedy,..thus avoiding a period of rumination which may precede a remote psychological reaction.
1968   Brit. Jrnl. Psychiatry 114 831/1   Those making up the second vector [of obsessional personalities] were indecisiveness and definite symptoms of neurosis, such as anxiety, phobias, obsessions, and ruminations.
2010   N.Y. Times Mag. 28 Feb. 40/2   Psychiatry has come to see rumination as a dangerous mental habit, because it leads people to fixate on their flaws and problems, thus extending their negative moods.

So yes, it appears to be a term of art, and quite a bit older than my late colleague SN-H.


On Jan 15, 2013, at 2:02 PM, ddr11 wrote:

> 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
> solutions."
> 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
> * my dissertation:
> * verify my degree:
> * my address: 3923 N. Calispel, Spokane, WA 99205 USA
> * my telephone: (509) 828-7344
> * my blog:
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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