Cypher

Cypher: (v) to calculate numerically; figure

We live in a generation that touts its tolerance while simultaneously maintaining a tiny regional dialect.

Nowadays, folks are not only ignorant of words and terms, but proud that they were born long after said phrase was uttered.

I suppose I felt that way when I was younger, too.

I was guilty of looking for words and slogans from former decades so I could make fun of them.

Yet in the process of this alienation, a lot of good words get crucified on the “cross of cool.”

So today when I saw our word—cypher—it brought back one single memory.

When I was in high school, there was a young guy who moved to our town from Bowtown, West Virginia. We thought he talked funny. He certainly dressed poorly. He was shy. And he always told us when he was discussing his algebra homework that he was “workin’ on his cypherin’.”

We just stared at him, having no idea what he meant. Exasperated, he explained that all reasoning, all math problems, all puzzles and all dilemmas back where he grew up had to be “cyphered.”

He described the process—you study the problem, look off in the distance seeking an answer, and then lick your pencil and “get to figurin’.”

We called him a hillbilly.

It was not a compliment.

It was our way of saying that we were better than him because he had a weird word for mathematics.

Whatever his terminology may have been, his test scores were excellent. Matter of fact, he was so good at cyphering that he ended up with a scholarship to The Ohio State University, where he studied to be an engineer and ended up traveling the world, building stuff and benefitting poorer countries with better ideas.

I suppose one might consider that in these journeys he gained a certain amount of sophistication—and didn’t cypher anymore.

But I can still envision this alien to our community standing over a set of blueprints, looking off in the distance before licking his pencil…

And solving the present problem.

 

funny wisdom on words that begin with a C

Abacus

by J. R. Practix

dictionary with letter AAbacus:  An oblong frame with rows of wires or grooves, along which beads are slid, used for calculating.abacus

I’ve heard of these things. I’m not so sure I’ve ever actually been in the presence of one. Listen to me go on. . . “Presence of one…”

It’s not exactly an alligator or the Queen of England. I always thought the Chinese used it for calculating–and since my society universally believes the Chinese are good calculators, I guess an abacus is quite efficient.

It looks complicated. It looks like one of those games advertised by Milton Bradley, with moving pieces that have seven pages of directions and you find yourself baffled by the second paragraph.

Can I be the first one to say that I think the calculator may be one of the greatest inventions ever known to man? It comes in second behind the fork. Never underestimate the power of that utensil.

Boy, that got me thinking. I gave such an importance to the fork, and left out toilet paper. I sometimes get picky about toilet tissue. It’s amazing how valuable it is, though,  even if it’s a second cousin to sand paper.

Anyway, back to the abacus. I was never good in math. I mean, I did great with long addition, subtraction, division, multiplication. But then, when it had to be explained instead of ciphered, with algebra, geometry, and we shall not even mention calculus, I started feeling like the last monkey staring across the plain at a group of humans building a fire. In other words, I saw the need, appreciated the effort, but had no way of fathoming the process.

I probably should go out, find an abacus and enlighten myself on its value, but instead, I think I’ll just go to the store and purchase a calculator.