# 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…

# Critter

Critter: (n) any creature.

Painful as it may seem, sometimes you just have to make a decision.

Neutrality may appear to be a safer ploy, but if you continue to insist that you can go one way or another, you usually end up going nowhere.

I will give you two examples of what I’m talking about.

## The first one would be our selected word for the day—”critter.”

Although Webster insists it is synonymous—equal, if you will—to the word “creature,” you and I know it is not.

If I were sitting at a dinner with people of education, prominence and self-imposed superiority, and I were to utter the word “critter,” they would immediately assume that the conversation needed to be doled out in syllables of less than three.

## Yes, I would be classified as a bumpkin.

I might be viewed as a hillbilly.

Considered quaint, but not cute.

And they would be afraid that I might break out into strains of Dixie, insisting that “the South will rise again.”

I don’t care what state you’re from (except maybe Mississippi). If your governor kept referring to creatures as critters, you might think it was a populist choice. But even if you were a small-town type person, you would be suspicious about trusting this individual to be in charge of the state treasury.

No, I don’t think you can say “critter” and not have all the accoutrements, sins, attributes and burdens of the Dixon part of the Mason cast upon you.

## The same thing is true with the word “y’all.”

You can say, “All of you,” or “us together,” but the minute you say “y’all,” memories of moonshine and the Klan pop into the mind of your hearer, and you are cast among the ignorant.

I am not saying I agree with this, considering that I lived in the South for many years. But I have also traveled all over, and even though I grew up in Ohio, if I go to Wisconsin, they will insist I have a Southern accent.

## It’s not because I have a drawl or a twang.

It is simply because sometimes I chat y’all up ‘bout ma’ critters.

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# Banshee

Banshee: (n) in Irish legend, a female spirit whose wailing warns of an impending death in a house.

Although I am often surprised by Webster’s true definition of a word, this particular rendition really took my breath away.

It’s because when I was a child, I had an aunt who screamed at the children running in a room, telling us to settle down and stop acting like a “bunch of wild banshees.”

I did not know what a banshee was, nor did I care to ask her to explain. I just assumed that banshees were children who were having fun, which for some reason or another, drove this old lady crazy.

• I knew “banshee” was not good.
• I knew it was an insult.
• Just like I privately knew, in my young spirit, that when my aunt used the words hillbilly, worthless slut, wetback and nigger, that she probably wasn’t being complimentary.

So in a sense, banshee became associated to me with the word nigger. In other words, I knew it was bad and I knew I didn’t want to be one, since it made my aunt so pissed off.

Oh, yes, did I fail to mention? She thought that the black people in America–the niggers–were just as uncontrolled as we banshees.

So I grew up a confused young man who was offered a lexicon of terms, which if I accidentally used in public, my parents–and aunt–would quickly silence me, expressing their displeasure over my timing.

I was a child of Middle America, instructed in “public talk” and “private talk” … cautioned to never mix the two.

Thank you for enjoying Words from Dic(tionary) —  J.R. Practix

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# Acoustic

Words from Dic(tionary)

by J. R. Practix

Acoustic: (adj.) of music or musical instruments not having electrical amplification: e.g. acoustic guitar

• It has to be fun.
• It has to be humble.
• And it has to be willing to learn.

Those are the three ingredients I think are necessary to make any adventure workable, enjoyable and realistic. Whenever any group of people takes themselves so seriously that they believe they’ve arrived at the apex of all understanding or the pinnacle of all talent, they are obnoxious and in some ways, dangerous.

This is true of musicians.

Music, which was meant to be a heartfelt explosion of joy, intimacy and emotion, has become, God forbid, a craft. And as craftsmen, we sit around and discuss the subtleties of the use of particular implementations which hold our delicate treasures together.

Thus the word acoustic.

So the rock band, which was once willing to admit “they only knew four chords and that’s why their music sounded the way it did,” pretentiously now does a documentary film, sharing their music acoustically instead of using electronic assistance. We’re supposed to stand back in awe of these cave men, who have discovered that there is some little world outside their enclosure, and mull over their genius simply because … “they’ve unplugged.”

I love music.

• Music was God’s way of saying life should be tuneful.
• Music was God’s apology for conversation.
• And music is our way of expressing ourselves without insisting that the whole room listen to us pontificate.

So we should HUMBLY pursue it, realizing our limitations and ceasing to make excuses for our frequent bobbles.

But instead, we proclaim some people who compose to be “masters,” and everyone else mere “minstrels.”

So rather than enjoying the fact that other people have picked up our instrument and exceeded our efforts, we instead attempt to tear them down because they are not purists and don’t honor the traditions of syncopation or structure.

YUK.

I don’t care if you rock, jazz, square dance, hillbilly, rap or insist on Mozart. Be humble about it and have some fun. You’re not a better musician because you play an acoustic guitar instead of an electric one. It’s not a better auditorium because it’s acoustically adjusted to the high A-sharp on the first violin.

It’s supposed to be joyful. “A joyful noise”–remember that? So unless you plan on giggling and dancing, don’t come my way.

Acoustic set.

Somebody needs to take off the rubber nose and the big floppy shoes.