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.