Naming ideas

A while back, I said that writer’s block hasn’t been around that long. A friend keenly pointed out, though, that it might have existed long before someone decided to name it.

After all, lots of discoveries work this way. DNA, galaxies, memes – these all existed before anyone discovered them or noticed them and gave them names. But now that we have names for them, we can talk about them easier.

Ideas with names like this are like Lego bricks. We can hold them. We can move them around, rearrange them, build them up, or combine them with other ideas. On the other hand, without names, ideas feel liquid. They’re harder to grasp. They’re harder to combine with others while maintaining their original integrity.

That’s why naming ideas can be so important.

Take the example I started with at the top: writer’s block. We can talk about writer’s block now. We can diagnose it. We can try to prescribe remedies for it. Before naming it, writer’s would have had more trouble uniting in their common problem. “I can’t write” can describe so many different problems beyond the more specific difficulty of writer’s block. Perhaps that writer had hand cramps.

The same goes for other ideas, now named.

  • Division, multiplication, cubed roots
  • Opposites, rhymes, synonyms
  • Gm, F#, Amaj7
  • Circle, square, triangle
  • Heart break, genocide, minimalism
  • Drama queen, unibrow, selfie

Each of these ideas existed before we had a name for them. But now with the name, we encapsulate these ideas in a few words. So our conversations, both internally and with one another, can be more complex because we don’t have to resort to definitions each time we want to include one of these ideas. We can use the short form, the name, instead.

And when we hear the names, there’s a nod of recognition: “Ah, yeah, I know what you mean…”