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

Algebra

Words from Dic(tionary)

dictionary with letter A

Algebra: (n) the part of mathematics in which letters and other general symbols are used to represent numbers and quantities in formulas and equations.

X marks the spot.

Actually, it marks the spot where I crinkled my brow and totally ceased to understand mathematics.

My high school algebra teacher was a recent immigrant from Japan who had a mastery of numbers and a limited capacity for language. He created a double whammy–I was trying to learn something that was Greek to me, with a Japanese accent.

On top of that, it was his first teaching position, having just graduated from The Ohio State University, and although he was eager to be an instructor, he was less than versed in some of the more humane possibilities.

So after he tried to explain algebra to me for the fourth time, he became frustrated and started to curse. It was in Japanese, but I will tell you that swearing has the same intensity in every langauge.

I don’t know what it was about algebra. For some reason, I was granted a B in the subject, even though I have no concept about the process whatsoever.

Imagine my glee when the next year I discovered that I would be taking Algebra II. It was very similar to the sensation of, “even though I’ve never been on a date, here is the woman I am going to marry.”

Honestly, I have never used algebra in my whole life. Perhaps I could have put it to some practical purpose, but that would have required that I understand its value, in order to know what purpose would have been practical.

Candidly, I toil under the concept of eduction. What I mean is, I do believe there are things we are taught which may not have any immediate value to our lives, but still have an esoteric importance.

Flatly, they make us seem civilized.

So I’m happy to report that I actually survived a semester of algebra, and Algebra II, and then ran out of the room in horror at the mere mention of calculus.

So for me: X=the 24th letter of the alphabet.