It’s a good word, ponder. It’s meatier and weightier than the rather simple and banal think. It represents a weighing and balancing of different thoughts and ideas; a sense of contemplation that is more slow, profound, internal, searching, and prolonged than a fleeting or flighty thought. It’s also far away from its more questioning and less serious cousin, wonder: change the first letter, and we’re plunged more deeply into our own minds and inner conflicts.
The OED defines ponder as meaning to weigh mentally, to think over, or to consider (transitive), or simply to think, or muse (intransitive). Note how its adjectival form, ponderous, takes on heavier and more negative connotations suffused with weight and solemnity: it means slow and clumsy because of great weight; dull, laborious, or excessively solemn.
Steve, a psychologist whose livelihood depends on his own pondering about himself and others, found himself ‘stuck’ or lodged in a state of contemplation. While in this frame of mind he walked past a man sitting on a bench who was also clearly in his own ‘state of ponder’. A glassy-eyed faraway look, a furrowed brow, a downward cast of the head, a still body belying a churning mind… Putting these observations — of bench-man and his own reflective impasse — together, Steve decided not only to nominalize this most static and sometimes even stagnant of verbs: he cast it in an expression very descriptive of a temporal state of being we all know. He found himself ‘sitting in his own ponder’.
Could Obama be in danger of losing his presidency as he sits in his own ponder? In the first Presidential debate of 2012 he portrayed himself as an introvert who weighs not just his thoughts but also his words with gravity and perhaps some inner conflict. His tendency to ponder is not typical of — and arguably not even suited to — the mind of the 21st-century politician, whose constituents with their increasingly narrow attention spans are swimming in ADD media, viral memes and 160-character tweets. Obama’s opponent, by comparison, is clearly capable of solid thought and thinks easily on his feet (not always successfully, as his “binders full of women” comment clearly illustrated), but it’s hard to imagine Romney sitting in his own ponder, as our President is wont to do.
Why does ‘sitting in our own ponder’ make us think of ponds? (At least it does me.) Are they related, pond and ponder, or is it just that they sound alike, especially when the verb is masquerading as a noun? Ponder, a Middle English word, comes via the Old French verb ponderer from the Latin ponderare, from pondus -eris “weight”. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its meaning “to weigh a matter mentally” is attested from the late 14th century. Pond comes from a variant of the word pound: aha! we wonder: is that a pound of weight? No, this pound is an enclosed place – usually for animals. It’s from the late Old English pundfald — “penfold, pound,” related to pyndan — “to dam up, enclose (water)” …. and thus we arrive at pond.
And we’re back to sitting in our own ponder.