Printable Version
Pronunciation: ru-mê-nayt Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To chew a cud. 2. Mull over, reflect deeply, spend time thinking.

Notes: Apparently our ancestors took a cow's chewing its cud to indicate that the beast was deep in thought. The figurative sense of ruminate today is the dominant one. We ruminate on, over, or about things. Today's word comes with an action noun, rumination, and a personal noun, ruminator. The adjective is ruminative. An animal that chews a cud is known as a ruminant.

In Play: This word often replaces think as a delaying tactic. A father might say to his 17-year-old son, "So you want to drive the Cadillac to the beach? Let me ruminate on that for a week or two." It also replaced think for thought processes that lead to no action: "I just read War and Peace and it gave me a lot to ruminate on."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from ruminatus, the past participle of Latin ruminare "to chew a cud, to think over", based on the noun rumen, ruminis "throat, gullet". English borrowed this word, too, but it is used mostly by veterinarians to refer to the first and largest stomach of ruminants. All ruminants graze on grass, but grass is indigestible because of its cellulose content. Ruminants get around this impediment by having several stomachs, the first of which (the rumen) allows bacteria to eliminate the cellulose. The rumen also allows regurgitation of the now edible grass to be rechewed as "cud" and swallowed again. Where the Latin word rumen came from is a mystery. (Let's ruminate over the origin of rumen after thanking William Hupy for recommending today's excellent Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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