Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Y is for You All

I grew up in West Virginia where there seemed to be a dividing line between the way people talked. To the north people spoke more with a Midwestern/nothern accent and to the south there was more of a southern accent. I actually saw a map once that showed this dividing line. From my experience, it made a lot of sense.

If you went one county north of me, you would hear a more Midwestern sound. Go one county south of me and you would hear more of a country, southern sound. These variations also happened between towns to the more rural areas. I was a town kid living more to the north, so I didn't have much of an accent. Well, we all have an accent one way or another, but I sounded more like a news anchor than Ellie Mae Clampett. People have often been surprised when I tell them that I'm from WV. They think I should have much more of a southern drawl.

Edgewater Beach Resort. This is where I first learned about my You all.
That was until I spent one summer in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I had just graduated college and before heading off to grad school, I was doing a summer of field work for the USGS (United States Geological Survey) there. After spending the day in swampy muck with almost unbearable numbers of mosquitoes, we spent the evening at the bar in the local fishing "resort" where we were staying. We made fast friends with the owners and several of the locals that hung out there.

One evening, Gary, one of the owner's sons, said that I had a very southern accent. He said, "You talk like this," with very drawn out twangy words. Very southern. He also said that I said, "You all." Well, I guess I did sound kind of southern to someone who lived much further north than I did. But I had never noticed that I said you all. I learned in English class that you could be both singular and plural and that's the way I wrote it. I thought I talked that way also. I knew I didn't say the southern contraction Y'all, but I hadn't realize that I said a form of it.

That summer, I tried to stop saying you all and use you for both singular and plural like I thought I was already doing. And I couldn't do it. If a group of people were standing around and I said, "Do you want to go to the movies?" I would wait for a minute and then had to add all so my meaning was clear, "Do you all want to go to the movies?" Without the all I was afraid that they wouldn't understand that I was inviting all of them. That's when I figured out that in my world you is singular and you all is plural.

And that's how it's been ever since. Just like it was before. You is singular and you all is plural.

What do you say? You, you all, y'all, youins, ...

X is for X with a tail

Mr. Dimmick

I had the same math teacher all four years of high school--Mr. Dimmick. He taught math in a very logical and systematic way--just as it should be. He also made it seem like a game. We learned the rules of the game, and then we knew how to play. It seemed as easy as that. And he was very careful to make sure that we knew the rules.

Anyone, who has done much algebra, knows that there can be a lot of steps involved in solving a problem. Mr. Dimmick insisted that we be very systematic with our steps including making the unknown X that we were solving for with a tail. That way it would not be confused with X that was used for multiplication. Now to most, this seemed like an overkill. In fact, I've never run into anyone who had a math teacher who was this strict with the details and steps that needed to be shown in a problem.

However, this attention to detail paid off for me in college. When I was in my first calculus class, there came a point in the middle of the semester where complicated equations had to be broken down algebraically so they could be easily integrated. Most everyone in the class was confused when they were trying to do this. In fact, the teacher handed out worksheets so students could practice algebra again. But I didn't need them. Mr. Dimmick's careful teachings were still with me. Including making a tail on every unknown X in the equations.

I'll have to admit, decades later, I do not remember all of the math that Mr. Dimmick taught me, but I do remember that he taught me well and making my X's with a tail was an important part of that.


But wait there's more:

I remember a story Mr. Dimmick told one day about his four year old granddaughter. He asked her what zero meant. Her answer was, "That's when you don't hold up any fingers." He had a big grin as he told it and it made me smile too.