Martin Messier

February 22, 2023

How You Can Pack More Punch Into A Single Word

Many NLP students have a hard time understanding and using nominalizations appropriately. Most learn in their early training that we should de-nominalize every intangible noun spoken. I used to believe I had to run from nominalizations like the plague.

A nominalization is a world of its own (funny, even the word "world" is a nominalization... He he he, they're all over the place). You have to expore it to understand it.

And it serves a powerful purpose.

It enables us to package a process into an entity and to move it around, leverage it and make it interact with other processes.

You'll best understand this through an example.

Let's play with the sentence "I want to change society."

"Society," of course, is a nominalization. By using that word, I'm turning a process (socializing) into a finite entity (society). Nominalizations can also show up by turning a process (such as deciding) into an event (decision).

Let's get back to our "society" example.

If I want to denominalize it, I'll say "I want to change the way people socialize and interact with one another."

Do you notice how this complexifies the sentence?

So we nominalize for a reason. It makes our communication simpler and more direct.

Here's the real challenge: you need to learn how to USE the nominalization. Instead of blindly denominalizing it, you can instead tease out the underlying reality it represents.

You can do this in several ways. For instance, if I told "I want to change society", you could ask me "what do you mean by society?" Or, you could ask me "when you say society, who are you talking about exactly?"

Once I answer your question, you can then use the nominalization in an effective and powerful way. It only becomes a trap only if you assume you know what it means to me.

Instead of the classicly trained skill of denominalizing, the real skill you must master is how to unpack the nominalization and sort through its content. Once you've done that, you can leverage that nominalization as a powerful shortcut to its meaning.

In the context of therapy, you must unpack your client's nominalizations to figure out how she sorts its content. If its content is empowering and well-sorted, the nominalization serves as a shortcut that presupposes all its content. If not, you can assist your client in repacking and resorting its content and then repackage it into a powerful word.

Depending on how you package the content, you can pack a whole lot of punch into a single word.

Give it a shot. If you run into trouble, comment on it here on the blog.

If you're committed to mastering nominalizations and other forms of language, enroll in Meta Model Mastery. In 45 minutes, you will have learned all the patterns you need to take apart and reassemble someone's Model of the World.

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