In Byron’s Manfred, Nemesis speaks of spending his time
Goading the wise to madness; from the dull
Shaping out oracles to rule the world
Afresh, for they were waxing out of date,
And mortals dared to ponder for themselves,
To weigh kings in the balance, and to speak
Of freedom, the forbidden fruit.
Ah, they pondered – that most human of acts, free thought, the fire of Prometheus: the ability to reflect, to weigh matters and hold them in the balance, pound for pound, ounce for ounce. It’s like gazing in a pond, asking questions – and knowing your reflection will be the responder.
One may certain ponder light matters, but most typically the object of pondering will be ponderous. Not that ponderous means “fit for pondering”; it means “weighty” – it has the same source as pound, as does ponder: the Latin pond root referring to weight, whence pondo “by weight” and ponderare “weigh, appraise”, also related to pendere “hang” (as in suspend judgement). (Our word pond “small lake” actually comes from another word pound: the one in dog pound, from the same Germanic root relating to containment that gives us impound.)
So you ponder a question or a meaning or mysteries – your thoughts wander as you think upon durable matters. You take a proposition p, try it different ways: with bits removed o or n, turned around d, reduced and negated e, stripped down further r… roped in, you long to find an open road; perhaps you stretch out proned, pour a Pernod and watch as melting ice clouds its lucid clarity with a turbid whiteness. You want to get the matter right; you do not want to chicken out, or to lay an egg…
Speaking of which, pondre is French for “lay” (as in an egg). That’s not the source of our word ponder, however, which in French is pondérer. Mais lorsqu’on répond, il faut pondérer et ne pas pondre!
Thanks to Alison Kooistra for suggesting ponder and mentioning pondre.