I have the kind of brain that, upon extensive exposure to a word, turns it into wordly nonsense. This happened to me just now, and it was so distracting that I had to stop programming and write about it.


I’m writing a reproducible watcher client, meaning a client that will be useful for watching for changes in webby places in a research context. Of course, this means that I’ve seen the word “watcher” so many times that my brain is playing games on me. Has this ever happened to you? A word that you don’t think twice about starts to turn into nonsense. There are stages to this process.

Round 1: The Stranger

The first step of the wordly nonsense happens when the letters start to look strange. Who decided to put that combination together? Do I even recognize the letters? It feels a bit like a kind of proprioceptive disorder - I shouldn’t notice the letters, or question that they belong together. But then it happens, and I do. My brain wants to change things, or find meaning based on comparing this unknown thing to other things that are still known. “Hey, watcher kind of looks like snatcher if you turned the w on its side and wiggled it around a bit.” Is this someone that snatches the last cookie when nobody is looking? Is it the noun version of snatch, which I’m pretty sure is a dirty word? Oh gosh, at this point I’m focused on if a snatch is a dirty thing, or some kind of snack. Does a snatcher snatch snacks?

Round 2: What IS it

The next brain warping focuses on meaning. Come on now, really, what is a watcher? Is it someone that is doing the action of watching? Is it an older man sitting at a dock waiting for a boat, creases framing his eyes, looking quietly at the horizon? Is it a slangy way of saying “What’s ‘er”? Is it a sheek new brand of water made by Cher, “WatCHer”, or someone with a thick accent saying “water?” This round of thinking goes on indefinitely, and it’s this kind of thinking that leads to prowess with puns. The only problem is that by the time I’m done playing with sounds, the word looks completely foreigh and weird and I need space from it in order to regain back the original meaning.

Round 3: The Fantasy

At some point the visual brain takes over. What in the heck is watching? Is it like (the watch on my wrist) watching?

Could you have by a drive by watching?

My brain then creates detailed visual fantasy of a red car moving by (in slow motion) and hundreds of black watches flying out the window. An unsuspecting vicim, walking in the street, senses a disturbance and turns to his left, screams in slow motion terror, throws his hands up to guard his face, and then is pummelled (also in slow motion) with all the watches. He slowly falls out of the scene.

He was watched.

Yes, he was!

Snack for Thought

The brain is an amazing lump of meat. It’s interesting that creativity seems to come from both actively thinking (the examples above) and not thinking about things. For most, repeated exposure probably leads to better retention and learning, but for me it leads to intense and excessive focus on details that don’t matter. This is the question that I’ll leave you with today - how do you learn along this gradient of exposure? Are the different kinds of learning good for different things? And now I’ve gotten it out of my system, and I can go back to programming. I hope that you aren’t watched today!

Suggested Citation:
Sochat, Vanessa. "Wordly Nonsense." @vsoch (blog), 26 Mar 2019, https://vsoch.github.io/2019/watcher/ (accessed 16 Apr 24).