Even if you don’t know what a pandabunny is, your brain thinks it does. Your brain is awesome that way!
Tell me about pandabunnies. Are they panda bears with bunny ears? Bunnies with black and white fur? Or maybe bunnies that belong to pandas?
Two is one
So here we have panda bears, we all know what those are. And we have bunny rabbits, hoppity hop. We also have your brain, which is a wizz at something called conceptual blending. Simplified – MASSIVELY simplified – conceptual blending is an insanely creative process where you mind takes two or more distinct things and blends them together to make a new thing. This means we can take a human, add some spider venom, and create Spiderman.
Get Brangelina to Bollywood
In fact, English is jam packed with blended words. Smoke + fog = smog. Chuckle + snort = chortle. Glamourous + camping = glamping. Labrador + poodle+ labradoodle. Why? Because language is a living, breathing, infinitely creative thing.
Blend it, shake it, spread it
Although blending happens so fluidly that it’s as normal as breathing, it is something you can consciously practice to get your creative juices flowing. Try:
- Mixing and matching to make new words. It’s eleventy kinds of fun.
- Imagining blends of different animals. Go on, give the pandabunnies company.
- Creating visual fusions from unlikely pairs. Imagine barbed wire with butterflies for barbs. What would your flutterwing wire be used for?
Part 1 of, well, more parts on conceptual blending and creativity, and my obsession with the work of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner.
The stunning featured image is by Calavara Officialness at http://calavara.com/?p=971 . Go check it out!
Play with words! Scoot out boring adjectives from their regular places, scoop up fresh ones, and pop them in where you think they don’t belong.
I’ve had a long day. I feel tired. But the word tired is so tired. It’s been one of those days when the problems keep stacking up, and I just don’t have the energy to deal with it anymore. I feel unfizzed. My brain feels like gravel. My nerves are barbed wire. I feel like I’m dragging the day kicking and screaming behind me.
Unfizzed is better than tired, right?
If this word-switch doesn’t come naturally to you, try doing it this way:
1 – Pick something you can describe with an adjective. Let’s go with you.
2 – Pick another noun that’s not related. Let’s say “cupboards”.
3 – Now make a list of adjectives and descriptions for “cupboards”, and try to creatively apply one to you. Feel free to use a thesaurus!
4 – So maybe you’re feeling closed. Or shut in. Or like some piece of unnoticed furniture. Or like you can conceal people’s secrets. Or polished. Or roughly hewn. Or like someone’s taken an axe to you.
A confetti of words.
When you toss out the ordinary and bring in the unexpected, your pebble-path of sentences become a confetti of words. Your language becomes more evocative, and feelings and images explode in bursts of colour.
And if you’re not feeling your fizz, don’t stress. Stress kills creativity. Just keep trying, and the fizz will find you.
There you are, writing a comprehension test in your second or additional language, and you don’t know what the key subject word means. Don’t panic! Go melon!
It happens; you’re in an exam, writing a comprehension test in some language that isn’t your home language. It’s about the migration across the Serengeti of … is it zombies? Wait, could it be balloon? But no, surely that word means cupcake? You don’t know, and by now you’re so freaked out that you abandon your comprehension, and all hope of passing, and contemplate a future where zombies have more of a future than you.
Substitute the word with melon.
Or anything else that makes you smile. If you understand the comprehension in general, but you’re stuck on a few words, you might be able to clock up some marks without actually knowing what they all mean.
Here’s an example …
TEXT: The annual migration of wildebeest in the Serengeti is spectacular. The name Wildebeest means wild cattle in Dutch. Wildebeest are also called gnu.
QUESTION: Where does the annual wildebeest migration happen?
Let’s say you don’t know the word wildebeest. So we change it to melon.
MELON TEXT: The annual migration of melon in the Serengeti is spectacular. The name melon means wild cattle in Dutch. Melon are also called gnu.
Now you can answer the question, using the original word, even though you don’t know exactly what it means.
When and why it works
Melloning your comprehension test is a parachute move, and not a substitute for solid study. Plus it only works when you understand the rest of words. You can’t do much with: The annual meatball of melon in the Serengeti is purple.
Melloning relaxes your brain when it’s frozen. When you hit an important word, and you don’t know it, you lapse into panic mode. Replacing it with one you do know, especially something quirky or out of place, helps you relax and focus on the rest of the text. Plus, you’ll often be able to figure out the actual meaning of the words as you go along, by building up a network of contextual clues.
Good luck! Just chill and use your melon.
I’m not an educator, I’m a linguist, and a lover and learner of jellyfish. I love learning jellyfishes. I love all kinds of learning. But learning to speak a new jellyfish, or even just play around with the jellyfishes I know, is the best kind. You know what I mean, right?
Get your mind into that creative space by getting creative in your space.
Your brain doesn’t love boring. Or at least, mine doesn’t. It likes colourful, quirky, exciting, interesting things. So I dress my desk in happy stuff. The kind of stuff that make me smile, and that snap me out of the workday argh for a while.
So much of what I do is routine, and involves sales figures, product pricing, staff reviews, directoring (fancy made-up word) and on a crazy day, arguments over who stole my green pen. But none of that means I need to have a desk that saps the creative life out of me. Instead I have one that inspires me. One that turns my work place into my play space. Nothing like a gnome holding a glitter pen, to keep my imagination running riot.
But what if you have a very corporate office? Or what if the thought of coloured pens makes you break out in a cold sweat? Then start small. Buy a crazy mug, break out some fancy paper clips, add a novelty pen to your drawer, move in some artsy memo paper, or perch a perfectly acceptable stress ball on your desk. I know, I know, it sounds like a slippery slope to iced-rainbow drinks in inflatable pool filled with blue jelly, over lunch. And wouldn’t that be awesome!
Go fun it!
Do dragons know they have fire? Maybe not until they breathe flame.
It was like that for me; I didn’t know I had this creative spark, until it erupted in a searing rainbow of words somewhere in my mid-20s.
I was one of those people who “didn’t have a creative bone in my body”. At school I tried every kind of creative thing, from art to drama to writing to painting rocks to, well, anything I could do with pens, glue or occasionally, a soldering iron. I got good marks for creative writing, but I pretty much sucked at everything else.
At university I did a B.A.Language degree; if I couldn’t be creative, at least I could bask in the glow of people who were, and brag that I’d done it in English, German and Hebrew. Turns out I was quick at learning languages, but slow at learning what I was really capable of. It took an abandoned honours, a post grad in copywriting, and at least 2 years working in advertising to realise the blaze that ignited the world around me, was mine.
It took me 20 more years and a Linguistics Honours, to realise that there’s almost no part of my life that isn’t touched and transformed by my creative fire. As a student, as a mom, as a director running a company and managing staff, as a writer, as a regular woman just doing what it takes to get through the day, every day is a creative day.
We all have this creative spark inside. Not by virtue of being somehow magically hardwired for it, but by virtue of being human. We can all breathe fire! We’re here to remind you how.