I was talking to a friend about what creativity is. And it struck me that there’s a good number of words that I might have similar conversation about. For whatever reason, I’ve thought about some words. And it’s given me an atypical sense of them.
I’m inspired to share because, having thought about these words, they are interesting to me. I also just think words are interesting. Words and concepts are almost interchangeable to me. A word is a key to a concept. Some concepts can’t be described by a single word, so their multiword key is harder to use. Working memory is limited, so there are keys that are too hard to use, and therefore concepts you can’t think without learning or inventing new words. In this way words affect what thoughts you can have. Which is a powerful thing to wonder about.
I mostly named this post for the sake of alliteration. It differs from dictionaries in a few ways. Not all dictionaries are prescriptive, but this one is definitely not. That being said, I’m going to leave “I think” type boilerplate language out of the rest of this post. I’ve split this post into a few sections, each of which I’ll explain locally.
Over time, as I remember or realize more words like the ones here right now, I’ll add them.
These are the words that I have thought about and come up with an atypical sense of. They are created like so. I learn a word, and the typical concept that goes with it. As I learn about the typical concept, I find some new concept that I find more compelling and therefore deserving of the original word. The new concept will be somehow related to the original, otherwise I’d end up confused talking to people.
Creativity exists not only within the arts but also in being an engineer, lawyer, or McDonald’s cashier. Any time you’re successfully communicating with another human, you’re being creative. It bothers me when these instances of creativity are mislabeled, or missed entirely because there’s no other label for them.
Creativity is when you can predict a novel result based on some doable action, then do that action and get the result. Sometimes you mispredict the result, but if you learn from this mistake, it’s a step toward being creative.
This suggests that a person is not as a whole creative or not, but a person can be creative in a medium they are comfortable with. This works for me — I rarely know what someone means when they call someone else creative. Give a “creative person” a new medium and pretend they are being creative with it, but all they’re doing is producing random results. Someone might be able to consistently achieve creativity quicker than others. I’d call them a quick learner.
There can be moments of creativity. This has to do with how I think of problem solving. When you’re born, you’re standing on an infinite expanse of rock and you have a pick. The solutions to every problem you’ll encounter are buried below you. You solve your first problem, digging to some solution. It is now easier to dig to certain other solutions. You dig. Over time you create a vast network of tunnels. Cave-ins happen from time to time as you forget things. You have a mental map of where each solution is, and a sense of what solutions you think you can dig to. But neither of these things is perfect. At times, you are looking for a solution but are actually looking in the wrong spot. One of these times, you get frustated and explain it to someone. You start somewhere you’ve both been before in your mine. You need to do this, because your mine and their mine are two different things, though they exist in the same space. You walk them toward where you’re looking for a solution. Soon they stop walking because they’ve hit a wall. You’ve dug here before, but they haven’t. You see the tunnel that you’ve dug, they see a wall. You encourage them to dig there, and they do, and in this way you continue. You expect that you’ll both get to where you’ve been looking for a solution, which is good because then you’ll be progressing to a solution twice as fast. But sometimes, before you get there, your friend digs slightly wider than you did and hits the solution. In this way, your experience can be a burden to creativity, and an inexperienced friend can have a moment of creativity.
The short definition is someone who doesn’t like small talk, and extrovert is the opposite. You can be anywhere between the two, depending on how much you dislike small talk. I dislike this definition a bit because I don’t think introversion and extroversion are opposites. Maybe the words were originally intended to be antonyms, but they speak to personality traits that aren’t exactly opposites.
A definition I do not like is someone who gains energy by being alone, and an extrovert is someone who gains energy by being around people. I don’t like this definition because now you just don’t know what “energy” is.
The long definition starts with a evolutionary argument.
Variety is an abstract concept that people typically want. Being abstract, there’s no simple explanation for why we want it. You don’t run out of variety and die. I submit that our desire for variety makes us more survivable. Someone who only eats Kraft Dinner dies when Kraft Dinner goes extinct. If you get sick of Kraft Dinner, you’ll learn to eat something else, like peanut butter and jams sandwiches. Now you’ve invested energy into learning to eat something else, but you’re twice as survivable. I used food here, but this want for variety applies more generally. It can apply to wanting to exercise or watch TV after coding or composing music. Work-life balance is an expression of it. So is wanting to be around people and wanting to be alone.
The way I describe my want for variety is in terms of juices. Like one of those pop machines that you can create your own drink flavor from, any activity I do is going to consume juices in some proportion. Unlike the pop machine, everyone’s proportions of juices for a given activity is not necessarily the same. As well, the juices are slowly refilled over time, rather than topped up when needed. An introvert tends to use less juice while being alone; an extrovert tends to use less juice while with others. Most people are some amount both. It’s rare to see someone who would be happy to be alone forever. It’s rare to see someone who would be happy to be with others forever. It’s rare to see someone who could do both.
At some point I thought to formalize what positive relationship is. Positive relationship is unwieldy, so I’ll usually call it friendship instead. But I want to stay away from certain connotations friendship has, which I’ll get to in a second.
Alice and Bob are friends if Alice has the interests of herself and Bob at heart, and Bob has the interests of himself and Alice at heart.
This version of friendship isn’t superceded by a romantic relationship; a romantic couple are also friends. As well, a broken up couple (or any two people) might decide that never talking to each other again is the best way to serve themselves and each other, and in this sense they are still friends despite never interacting.
There might be a missing piece of this, which is that Alice and Bob have to believe each other. As is, Alice can’t conclude she’s friends with Bob because Alice can’t know what Bob’s thinking. So maybe a more practical definition would be:
Alice is friends with Bob if Alice has the interests of herself and Bob at heart, and she believes Bob has the interests of himself and her at heart.
I do think both versions are useful though.
If you hear this word and want more detail, the next question is always “Secure from what?”. Your belt secures your pants from falling down (with some success rate), not from being set on fire. Your email’s password secures it from people who don’t know the password, but anyone can find out your password given enough guesses, and they could always beat it out of you. Almost nothing is secure from the last one. The next question is “Are these the right things to be secure from?”. Is it enough that pants do not fall down? Do pants really need to be fireproof?
This word means too much. Sometimes it means a good argument, which is wrong. Sometimes it means an uncreative person, which is wrong (see creativity). Sometimes it means an unemotional person, which is somewhere between stereotypical and wrong.
Logic is a tool to get from premises to conclusions. I’m focusing on deduction because I’m most familiar with it.
Premises are created by describing reality. You can’t predict when someone will say “Let’s go kayaking!”. When they say that, you accept as a premise that they said that. So there’s more than logic going on in premise creation.
There are so many conclusions to make from real-life sets of premises that there’s a complicated process going on to even think of a meaningful conclusion. Then you check if your premises support your conclusion, which may itself be an involved and creative process. If they don’t you try again.
Someone who uses logic often isn’t necessarily good at arguing, uncreative, or unemotional.
A bad-but-logical arguer creates bad premises and ends up at bad conclusions. I should be careful about using the word “bad” here. Miscommunication happens between the most well-meaning people, and disagreeing on assumptions is a typical culprit. Here an assumption is an implicit premise.
An artist might create the statement “paintings made of noncrossing horizontal and vertical black lines with some resulting rectangles filled in with primary colors are good” and then instantiate some such paintings. Little creativity has gone into the paintings themselves, but much has gone into the creation of the logical statement. When you look at the paintings, you notice they seem uncreative at first glance, which encourages you to look deeper and try to derive the logic that instantiated them.
A sad person might note that they are sad and that looking at cat pictures make them happy, and then look at cat pictures and be happy.
Logical reasoning puzzles, for example the Blue Eyes puzzle, are good examples of requiring creativity to produce logic.
Rationalization can be good or bad. In both cases it’s the process of creating reasoning.
Say you observe the motion of Mars from Earth. You believe the universe is geocentric, so you come up with an explanation for Mars’ motion that involves rotating heavenly spheres attached to each other. You explain this to someone and it’s simpler for them to just remember how Mars moves. This is bad rationalization. It’s good to be able to call yourself out when you’re rationalizing badly. For example, creating a convoluted fortress of reasoning for why you acted a certain bad way allows you to avoid facing up to the fact that you acted a certain bad way. But this isn’t a good thing to do.
You realize that if the universe is heliocentric, the motion of Mars becomes easier to describe, and you can describe all the other planets similarly to how you describe Mars. You explain this to someone and they remember the reasoning rather than the motions of Mars, because they can work out the motions of Mars from the reasoning, and the reasoning is easier to remember. Using a mnemonic is an example of good rationalization.
believe, think, feel, know, truth, fact
To believe something is to belove the idea of it. You can do this whether or not you actually think it’s true. You can believe in a god even if you don’t think it exists.
To think something is to act consciously as if it’s likely true. You think the bug’s in that part of the code, so you look. You don’t need to love that there’s a bug at all. Or you could do both: you could think the universe in its entirety can be described by a few equations, and believe that it is too, because it’s beautiful.
To feel like something as in “I feel like that’s a bad idea” is to admit that you act as if it’s likely true, but you don’t necessarily know consciously how you came to that conclusion. You can feel like someone’s watching you, and think it too, maybe because you’re paranoid. You can feel like someone’s watching you, think it too, and believe it because you know they’ll help you when you’re in trouble.
To know something is to act consciously as if it’s true. It’s hard to know something about the world around you; it’s easier to know something about yourself. You can know you believe in your friend. It’s harder to know the bug is in that piece of code — even after you fix it, can you guarantee the symptom wont resurface? How do you know you understood the entirety of the bug?
Truth is subjective. It’s the stuff you know and maybe sometimes only believe.
Fact is objective. Compared to truth, it’s more meaningful to everyone else, but less meaningful to you. Facts should be truths. Not all truths are facts.
simple, complicated, complex
Simple is singular, independent, and not necessarily easy. Ease is subjective. “Easy for you to say” is a saying, “simple for you to say” isn’t. Something simple can be understood on its own, which is more objective. Adding is simple and easy. Integration is simple but not easy. A computer is (sometimes) easy but not simple. A piano is neither simple nor easy.
I have a feeling a good-sized group of people (my future self possibly included) will think I got complex and complicated backward (or wrong) here. But this post is more about sharing thoughts than getting definitions right, so it doesn’t really matter.
Complicated is plural. 100 simple things is complicated. For example, the cockpit of an airplane.
Complexity is intrinsic. The gamma function is complex. You might hope to tease it apart to look at each component in detail and then later understand it as a whole, and you might rationalize something as a result. But in the end the thing only makes sense as a whole.
Impossible to fully predict.
These are words that I’ve thought about, and come up with atypical thoughts, but not an atypical definition.
If you’re frustrated with how epic’s usage has changed, consider how you use the word awesome, which went through the same process a generation ago.
I don’t use this word hyperbolically. Some people do, and that’s fine. But here’s a dictionary entry:
“in effect; in substance; very nearly; virtually:
I literally died when she walked out on stage in that costume.”
I don’t like that a hyperbolic usage got an entry in a dictionary. Why not define a million as seven as well? How can anyone be hyperbolic now? I’m not against describing hyperbolic usages of words; a note that the definition corresponds to hyperbolic usage of the word would suffice.
Irony is apparently commonly confused with coincidence. I avoid using this word seriously.
I also avoid using the word coincidence seriously, because I once learned that a coincidence can mean merely when two things coincide. That is, it’s a coincidence that we wore the same shirt today, but it’s not remarkable to point that out. If our shirts were different, that’d also be a coincidence.
Morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in a language. You’ve probably never said rupt, but still associate it with some sense of brokeness, because you see it in words like rupture or corrupt. Morphemes don’t have to be bound like rupt; berry is a morpheme and a word. Cranberry morphemes only exist in one word. When you take berry away from cranberry, you get cran, and it’s hard to say what it means because you haven’t seen it anywhere else. Interestingly, rasp as in raspberry and mul as in mulberry are also cranberry morphemes.
It rhymes with as many words as orange does. Nurple is not a word.
Words that are common, but I know and like uncommon definitions of.
Accurate: average is near fact. An archer that misses left as often as right.
Precise: Deviation is small. An archer that hits the same spot with each arrow. The spot is not necessarily the target.
Rhyme has two definitions. The first one is colloquial and subjective and goes something like “two words with similar endings that sound good together”. Poets, or whoever cares about rhymes, need better, less subjective definitions than that. For example, a perfect rhyme is when the stressed syllable and everything that follows is the same (sing, ring); an imperfect rhyme is similar except the matching tail starts on an unstressed syllable in one of the words (sing, hearing). There’s more of these things, including alliteration. The second definition of rhyme is technical and less subjective and it’s the umbrella term for these things.
Words that just don’t come up much, but I like them.
Expected value is the sum over all possible outcomes of the probability of that outcome multiplied by its value. For those who like units, probabilities are unitless and values are values, so expected value is a value.
OK, it probably sounds too theoretical, but here’s an example use. If you pay 4$ for a lottery ticket which has a 1/1000 chance of winning 100$, then the expected value is -4+(1/1000)*100=-3.9. By itself, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy lottery tickets. What you need to do now is decide if it’s worth 3.9$ to you to get whatever else (not $) you get from partaking in a lottery. For example, excitement.
Maybe partaking in a lottery isn’t that common. But expected value comes up whenever there’s uncertainty. You are told that you have a one-in-whatever chance of winning the lottery, so you are certain of the uncertainty. More commonly, you come up with your own guesses at uncertainty. You’re at a party and there’s a woman who you think is named Alice, you’re maybe 50% sure, and she’s about to say hi to you. Do you respond with “Hey Alice!” or just “Hey!”? In my experience, not remembering someone’s name isn’t a big deal, neither is remembering someone’s name, but misremembering someone’s name is bad. So the expected value of saying “Hey Alice!” is between not-a-big-deal and bad, and the expected value of saying “Hey!” is not-a-big-deal. So I’d just say “Hey!”.
How you define knowledge. How you accumulate truths. How you bootstrap yourself out of nihilism. It’s your deepest philosophy from which your moral code and belief systems are derived from. It’s not a question I often ask of people because it takes time, thought, and effort to describe your epistemology even after you know it’s a thing. But I think it’s more interesting than, say, Myers-Briggs stuff.
acronym, initialism, portmanteau
Acronyms are formed from the initial letters of a group of words. Radar is an acronym of RAdio Detection And Ranging. Laser is an acronym of Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.
Initialisms are formed from the initial letter of a group of words, and they are pronounced by saying each letter. FBI is an initialism of Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Portmanteaus are words formed from parts of a group of words. Smog is a portmanteau of smoke and fog. Turducken is a portmanteau of turkey, duck, and chicken.
piquant, hot, spicy
Usually when someone eats something and their eyes go wide and they say “hot!” you have to ask “like heat, or like spicy?”. Turns out spicy is ambiguous as well. Something that tastes strongly of vanilla is spicy, but not hot. At some point I thought piquant was the unambiguous answer. It isn’t, it more or less means anything that piques your interest. So I guess I’ll just say spicyhot.
There’s infinitely many things that don’t have words associated with them. A thing gets a word when the cost of describing it with other words outweighs the cost of creating a new word. Photobomb wasn’t a word until cameras became commodity and social media took off. This is a list of things I think deserve words. Some come with suggestions.
This doesn’t come up so often, but when someone doesn’t buy milk in bags (or even if they do), there’s a good chance they’ve never seen this thing in their entire life. They’ve seen closed milk bags, open milk bags, and scissors. It’s interestingly hard to describe this thing to someone like that. I can’t think of anything it’s like. My best description is a question-mark-shaped (no dot) piece of plastic with a blade in the hook of the question mark used for opening milk bags. You can’t say milk bag opener, because that’s scissors. I eventually did learn a brand-name for these things — Snippit — but I don’t know if it’s the only brand-name.
Some buses have a string you can pull to tell the driver to stop to let you off. Every so often, as you go to pull the string, someone else does right before you, and you don’t have time to stop yourself. There’s no malice in any of it, it’s entirely random, nothing bad really happened, but you’re still left feeling like something went wrong. There’s some more general concept here. Maybe “performing an idempotent action as you find out you don’t need to”. Anyway, the word I came up with is zoodle, as in “hey that guy just zoodled you”. The zoodlee is the one who starts going to pull the string first, and the zoodler is the one who finishes pulling the string first.
A scary tool. Credit to my friend’s nightmare. Simpsons season 4 episode 17, “Last Exit to Springfield”, the dental plan one, features the scraper, poker, and gouger, all flepoops.
When I learned the word sapiophile it struck me that someone who knows such an uncommon word probably feels pretty positively about knowledge, and this is what sapiophile means. So by uttering the word sapiophile, a sapiophile identifies themselves as a sapiophile. I thought that was a pretty cool concept.
I tried to come up with other examples. Otaku might be close — it basically means nerd, and it’s part of North American nerd culture. I also thought of a secret society whose name only members know. I guess this helps to inform the pattern: any obscure word that describes the people that invented the word.