Why learning new words is as good as sex

Wednesday, 25 November 2015 by

Now I’ve got your attention, I’m not going to disappoint you by talking about something completely different… the headline is backed up by scientific research. (Yes, I know you’ve heard that one before too, but please bear with me.)

PsyPost, a psychology and neuroscience news website, recently reported on a study published in the journal Current Biology. Researchers from the University of Barcelona and elsewhere discovered that learning a new word activates the reward region of the brain. So what?

Well, this is the same area that gets us excited when indulging in food, drugs and sex.

As well as being fascinating, and perhaps helping to explain my love of language (!), the article also reminded me how my regular “Word of the Week” post used to generate a good response on Twitter. Now I know why – and feel inspired to resurrect the idea.

Dictionary "V"


With that in mind, just think about “ventral striatum” for a moment. Does it feel good? (Doubly so, perhaps, since there are two words.) Anyway, it’s the medical name for this reward region of the brain we’ve been talking about.

And if that’s just too, er, Latin for you, how about these “ven” words:

vendace – either of two types of fish

venery – sexual indulgence (there we go again)

venipucture – puncture of a vein as part of a medical procedure (e.g. taking a blood sample)

Look out for more “Word of the Week” tweets by following me on Twitter @CopywriterRich


I recently watched the extremely intelligent (and rather young-looking*) Stephen Fry hosting an old episode of the BBC’s comedy quiz show QI.

As always, it was amusing and enlightening – particularly because I learned a new word: tmesis.

Tmesis occurs when a word or phrase is inserted into another word, often for humorous effect. I’ve included a (polite) example in the title of this blog, but often the inserted word is ruder/stronger and therefore probably funnier.

* This is a more recent photo, courtesy of the fan-bloody-tastic QI website.