April 8, 2009

A verb for intelligence

Solution-focused practitioners separate the problem from the person. Here is an example: instead of saying that someone is depressed, we may say that someone is acting depressed or showing depressed behaviors. The Milan team of Palazzoli, Cecchin, Boscolo and Prata were among the first to realize that saying that the person is the problem ('John is an insecure person') creates a static view of human functioning. There is an alternative. As Walter and Peller (1990) say: "Use of verbs like show, become, seem and act as if promote a view that behaviors are temporary and changeable."

I am glad to see that this dynamic and optimistic view of human functioning seems to be winning ground in mainstream psychology. An example is the book Intelligence and how to get it by Dick Nisbett (see my review here). A few days ago I completed an extended review of this book for Interaction, a new journal of solution-focused practice in organizations. In the review I reflect on some parallels between the book and solution-focused assumptions. My review led Kirsten Dierolf (one of the initiators of the magazine) to say it would be good to think of intelligence in terms of a verb.

Interesting... What might we start saying instead of: "John is intelligent"? Mm ... "John intelligizes?, "John intelliges?". "John is smarting?"Any ideas?


  1. - Is John intellecting?
    - Nope, I haven't seen him intellecting in a long long time.
    - That's sad... he used to intellect with so much passion, it was a beauty seeing him come up with those wacky solutions.

  2. Hi Coert!
    Your reasoning makes a lot of sense.
    However, I cringe at the idea of creating new words, or new verbs.
    I think we might use what we already have in a different way.
    So, instead of saying "you are intelligent", we can say "that was a smart reasoning","that is smart thinking" and so on.
    Just my idea...
    and I hope Peter thinks I am intellecting! :)))

  3. Hi Paolo,

    My first idea was to use something like:

    "That's a nice use of your intelligence"

  4. Hi Paolo, I sympathize with you idea of using words that are already there. Sounds very solution-focused. We might even think of simple description as "John is thinking sharply."

    Then again, I like Peter's new word 'Intellecting' a lot, don't you? I want to use it! :)

  5. Hi Paolo, Coert, and Peter.

    Like Paolo, I have a bit of a problem with "verbing". Where to stop? Maybe im not a male, but I'm male-ing. Perhaps I'm not 48 age years old but olding? I'm just a maleing, olding, sweding, grumping guy. No, sorry guying.

    The are some good point in social constructionism views, but much more big problems. I think if we could bring back Occam, the grandfather of minimalism, reason and sceptiscism, he would problably regard constructionism as the scolastics of our time. Instead of debating how many angels fit on top of a pin, we could wonder how many genders could fit in a constructed body-ing. (sorry, I'm a bit grumpy (no verb) today:)


  6. Hi Michaeling,

    I think you were funnying when you wrote this:

    "I'm just a maleing, olding, sweding, grumping guy. No, sorry guying."


  7. Thanking you for youring responsing, Coerting. I just wonder, the theory of de-constructing re-ificating construction like "intelligence". Chouldn't the be "theoring".

    Joke a side. I think most of these problems are actually delt with quite successfully by science in the Darwinian/Popperian/Dawkins sense. By separating correlation from causation. By being honest and clear in you definitions. And by, following Sokrates, realizing how little you know. The concept of intelligence is, as already Gardner made clear, a really complex thing. So, as I see it, it important to stay with clear language, to avoid misunderstandings, oversimplifications, and plain falsities, than to fall into the wolly verbing social creationist camp. Sorry, I mean constructionist.

  8. Hi Michael, yes intelligence is dizzyingly complex. Nisbett's book is great, have you seen it?

  9. Hi guys!

    Peter, I like your expression: a nice use of intelligence.
    But Coert is right: intellecting sounds fun! :)

    Michael, good points... and so funny!!
    Come on, maleing, swedeing, but not olding :)

    I remember an old "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip, where Calvin was talking about verbing. I think he used the word access as an example, pointing out that that word used to be a noun but now using it as a verb only caused confusion.

    Thanks everybody for the fun conversation,

  10. Aah, the Calvin and Hobbes classic:

    Calvin: I like to verb words.

    Hobbes: What?

    Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when "access" was a thing? Now, it's something you do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.

    Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.


    If I remember correctly, Steve deS used that cartoon in "Words"

  11. Verbing a noun with a very unclear, widely and differently interpreted and dizzyingly complex (nice expression, Coert) meaning will give us a unclear verb.
    But maybe I'm not intellecting hard enough a the moment to possibleling Coert's suggestion.

  12. Michael,
    I did not know S DeShazer used Calvin and Hobbes in one of his books!
    I love Calvin and Hobbes, I know them by heart, but still reading cartoons is something that relaxes me... when I am having breakfast that is all I can handle, too early to deal with the news! :)

  13. A yes... when I say "intelligence is a verb" I don't think that we should invent a verb (although it is fun). I just want to point out that it is very easy to confuse "intelligence" with a thing if we compare sentences like "I have a computer" and "I have intelligence". The "have" in that sentence means different things and the noun-ness of the words computer and intelligence means different things. When we say: "Michael has a lot of intelligence, although he still thinks Dawkins, Gardner and Popper have anything meaningful to say", we are saying that Michael tends to think sharply and quickly (in most cases) :-)

    Inventing a new language would soon lead to the same confusions ... we just shouldn't fall into the traps it poses (like, for example, identifying brain activity pertaining to molecule grammar thing and cognition pertaining to person grammar).

    Kind regards,
    Kirsten Dierolf

  14. Interesting discussion.

    I'm think-ing. Perhaps we can say a person is thinking well or thinking in useful ways instead of being intelligent?


  15. Each of the verbs we use in looking for an equivalent of "intelligence-ing," figuring, contemplating, reasoning, ratiocinating, refer to one facet of the wide array of activities involved in exercising our intelligence. Maybe that's the reason there's no verb. I don't think we have verbs to denote simultaneous, interdependent actions.


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