Think Thank Thought Leader
March 17, 2013 5:14 PM   Subscribe

'Think tank' and 'thought leader' not 'thought tank' and 'think leader'. Can you help me construct a good argument for why we have settled on the first two and not the second?

Is there a reason other than convention and euphony, an argument from linguistic principles rather than just-because? It's defeating me, and bothering me no end, and I'd appreciate your thoughts!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken to Writing & Language (7 answers total)
I'm going with:

"Think" is a verb, and it describes what is happening in the tank. Plus, "think tank" sounds nice.

"Thought" is a kind of attributive noun that tells you what kind of leader it is. Plus, "thought leader" sounds nice.
posted by found missing at 5:20 PM on March 17, 2013

We don't *keep* the thoughts in the tank, that's where they come from (it's *where* we think).
posted by unknowncommand at 5:39 PM on March 17, 2013

Alliteration, for think tank. 'Think leader' just sounds nonsensical. 'Thinking leader' would be better than that.
posted by pompomtom at 5:40 PM on March 17, 2013

"Thought leader" correlates to "band leader" or "ring leader" or even "cheerleader", and all of those use nouns as modifiers (even a cheerleader leads the cheers, they don't lead the cheering).
posted by unknowncommand at 5:45 PM on March 17, 2013

As has been said, "thought leader" comes from a highly productive derivation where the verb and its complement are combined into a descriptive noun. If we think of a sentence patterned like "he drinks tea", that is he "Xs Y", it can be turned into a noun like, "he is a tea-drinker", or he is a "Y-Xer". X is always a verb and Y is most often a noun (although it need not be). Even though we may never say the "original" phrase, it is still effectively "there" as a way of understanding the new noun through informing its pattern. Thus "thought leader" is understood to be equivalent to "he leads thought" as we know "he leads think" makes no sense.

"Think tank", on the other hand, is much more free in choosing what words make up the compound, and I would put forward that the name was chosen as it sounds good with both words ending in -nk. I see no real reason why it couldn't have been "thought tank" or even "thinking tank" or "thinker tank".
posted by Jehan at 6:09 PM on March 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

Good stuff, Jehan. That's the idea I was groping towards, but somehow couldn't crystalize in a way that incorporated a simple example.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:25 PM on March 17, 2013

Another reason might be fashion. I think of think tanks as starting in the 1950s-60s, when computers and cybernetics were becoming big things. IBM was famous for the motto "THINK", and that might have influenced the naming.

(If you want another puzzling example, there's a restaurant near me whose sign says "Eatery - Brewery". I always think about the asymmetry of referring to consumption for food and production for beer, and wonder why a sign that says "Cookery - Drinkery" just wouldn't work.)
posted by benito.strauss at 12:12 AM on March 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Touché   |   Poison Ivy Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.