# 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…

# Crossly

Crossly: (adj) in a cross or angry manner

In a normal school day of, let’s say, seven hours, may we conjecture that fifteen percent of the time is spent shifting from one class to another, ten percent having lunch, another fifteen percent on history or social studies, fifteen more percent on English and grammar, and then another fifteen on the sciences, while a whopping thirty percent is invested in mathematics.

I am not trying to editorialize on school subject matter—measuring its height, weight and depth in value.

But I will tell you:

### Most of adult life is spent trying to learn to communicate.

You will notice that on the average school day, communication is not a primal concern. It is expected that the students will figure it out for themselves and give reasonable honor to the teaching staff.

But without learning communication, we are unfortunately destined to continually say things that are offensive and find ourselves called on the carpet for it, apologizing in such a manner that nobody in the room—including ourselves—believes it to be sincere.

### When too much knowledge mingles with too much ego and is accompanied by too much stress, it makes us begin to speak crossly.

We may not even be aware that our tone of voice has changed from relaxed to strained. But everyone who hears us immediately pulses the fury, sarcasm and despair that lurks behind each syllable.

### You would think, since most of our lives is spent communicating, that some training might be in order.

But even in our homes, once a reasonable peace and quiet has been achieved, we don’t necessarily care how it was acquired.

Until we grasp that human beings don’t hear words, but rather, absorb the vibrations of emotions, we will insist that everyone is too touchy because “we never meant anything” by what we said.

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# Cosmic

Cosmic: (adj) of or relating to the cosmos

When I was in the first grade and they presented math problems for addition—like 4 + 3 and 2 + 7—I did them, believing that when I finished, I would know everything about mathematics.

They didn’t tell me that subtraction was next.

They might have scared me off if they had talked about multiplication.

And, well, division is so divisive.

If they had shared that by the time I was in high school I would be studying something called calculus, which is mathematics taken almost to the realm of ethereal religion, I might have lost heart in the whole process—or stupidly, tried to jump ahead and take on “the big one.”

That’s the way I feel about people who are involved in religion, spirituality and the cosmic.

Here we have a beautiful Earth to learn, add up, subtract, multiply and even occasionally divide up into parts, and we are still tempted to study the heavens, the gods, the stars and the universal spectrum.

It doesn’t make us better people.

It certainly can make us self-righteous.

And in the long run, it pushes others away, who might like to have a conversation with us if it weren’t laced with “angels, planets and demons.”

There certainly is a cosmos.

But it seems to me that we should eat the plate that is set before us before we start ordering other things off the menu.

For our Earth is in great need of being befriended by those with bigger brains than the creatures who live in the jungle.

If we spend too much time looking at the stars, the Earth might turn into dust at our feet.

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# Arithmetic

Arithmetic: (n) the branch of mathematics dealing with the manipulation and properties of numbers.

Arithmetic is definitely one of them.

It is one of the four basic skills required to maintain an adult life without constantly looking inept.

I wish I had known that when I was in high school. But fortunately, I did learn enough addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to handle my finance and everyday activities without always requiring a calculator in my hand, with numbers too tiny to punch.

Would you be curious about the other three?

Yes, often people ask us to read aloud–and if we stumble over words or are too slow, it is immediately surmised that we are mentally challenged.

3. Writing. Although grammar can be a naughty mistress or a nagging wife, there are certain qualifications necessary to be part of the human family. One should know that “you are,” as a contraction, is spelled y-o-u’r-e, not y-o-u-r.

If you are not familiar with several of these common mishaps-in-print, you will be laughed at by the snobs and bewilder the kinder folk.

4. Can you make a two-minute speech on your feet without spending 72 seconds of it explaining why you’re not good at it? We are a gregarious race, and demand that those around us have the ability to articulate their feelings without having too many a-a-h-s, umms, or … what was I saying?

Arithmetic is very important. Without it, things just don’t add up.

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

# Abelian

by J. R. Practix

Abelian: adj. {mathematics} (of a group) having members related by a commutative operation (i.e. A x B = B x A)

Sometimes I wish we didn’t live in an A and B world. Actually, most of the time.

And if we insist on living in that separation, I wish we all would be more Abelian. In other words, find out that A x B does equal B x A.

There is a great chicanery going on in our society today. It is presented under the magnanimous banner of diversity. But if you look carefully, you realize the reason we want to extol our differences is in order to publicly or privately refuse equality to those who dare to vary.

It’s really sneaky.

Once you determine that somebody is unique–or at least off the beaten path of your lifestyle–you can smile at them, pretending that you appreciate their choices, while internally feeling superior that your particular inclinations are better.

No, we need to be more Abelian in our approach. Long before we discuss differences, we need to establish the certainty of equality. In other words, you are equal with me. Now, let’s sit down and learn about our individual choices.

If you don’t establish what’s equal first, you will use people’s differences against them.

Case in point: women are not different from men unless they’re first equal. THEN we can study, appreciate, argue, celebrate or even fuss about our variations. The discussion will be fruitful because it will be done in an atmosphere of “even-Steven/Stephanie.” If we joke about the differences before we’ve established an Abelian equality, we will never grant each other the dignity of justice.

Tricky, isn’t it?

Let’s find out what’s equal. We’ll have plenty of time to discover what isn’t.