When You Learn a New Word, You See it Everywhere

When I learn a new English word I immediately see it pop up everything. The book I’m reading just happens to have it, the newspaper article I read the next day uses the word, and so forth.

Driving through Kunming, China today, my host mentioned a Taiwanese brand name I’d never heard of. After he told me I immediately started seeing the brand name on signs throughout the city, signs I’m sure I’d looked at many times before and just didn’t recognize.

When I learn a new word or new idea, I always ask myself, “What did I do before I knew that word? What literally went through my head when I saw that word? Nothingness? Confusion? Did I just not see that sign with the brand name or did I see it and discern no meaning?”

The answer is I read right over the word and my eyes passed through the sign without a second thought.

This, to me, is proof that we can always engage with the world in deeper and deeper ways if our perspective (or vocabulary) is broadened.

Some people live as if the world is static and our job is to slurp it up until the bowl is empty. I don’t think this way. I see the bowl as bottomless because we all have the capacity to re-interpet the millions of images and words life throws at us in a more nuanced, compassionate, and smarter way. So many of these ideas pass through our head unchecked.

The best way to build this capacity, in my view, is to acknowledge the truth of the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” and then consciously commit to widening your perspective (through knowledge acquisition, travel, whatever).

If you don’t believe me on this one, learn a new, relevant vocab word and see if you find it pop up in your readings.

5 comments on “When You Learn a New Word, You See it Everywhere
  • I totally get that, mainly new words. I learn a new word and suddenly I start hearing it being used more, tv, newspaper just everywhere. I find it pretty neat, nice feeling like you can see more into things now.

  • Nice post. For me, one memorable word was Tanqueray. I was a library school graduate student. We functioned as the librarians of last resort for reference questions, which meant we took turns answering difficult questions for the state of Iowa. A patron in a little Iowa town had come across the word Tanqueray while reading, and I received the job of finding out what it meant. I spent an hour researching the question before I asked one of my professors if he happened to know what it was. He said, “Sure. It’s the brand name for a kind of gin.” Naturally, I, one of the the only teetotalers, was given that question. I’ve never forgotten the word, and naturally I started noticing ads for Tanqueray the very next day.

  • Ben, you’ve stumbled across a great secret in this nice post. I just never made the connection that even a simple word can help me view my world in a different way.

    When you learn a new word, you are activating what’s called the “reticular activation system.” People, books, places, distinctions, and resources you previously never saw become apparent. Whenever you seek something and learn a new thing, you will find it. This is used in great effect in business and life.

    For all of you who wish to learn new words every day and improve your vocabulary, there are a few websites which you can bookmark. (Ben has them in his blogroll as well).



  • I was going to comment that this is due to the reticular activating system (RAS), but see that Toli got there ahead of me. The RAS is a cool part of our brain. It’s the reason you see zillions of yellow Volkswagens just after you bought a yellow Volkswagen (substitute your favorite car here — even a Ferrari). Create a goal, any goal, and if your brain engages sufficiently, the RAS will draw into your conscious awareness things associated with your goal. A very valuable business tool!


  • Wow, amazing blog format! How long have you been blogging for? you make running a blog look easy. The entire look of your web site is fantastic, as smartly as the content material! Hay Day Cheats

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