#AtoZChallenge 2020: P Is for Poem and the Prefrontal Cortex

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.Steven Wright

My random brain, which seems to be in the ascendency where the A to Z is concerned, thought first of the dictionary again today. The first word that jumped out was

  • pachmann, who turned out to be a Russian pianist, not a computer game

followed by, among others,

which sounds like something I might have ended up with when I disinfected my eye


  • pachycephalosaurus – A large herbivorous dinosaur of the genus Pachycephalosaurus of the late Cretaceous Period. It grew to about 7.6 m (25 ft) long and had a domed skull up to 25.4 cm (10 inches) thick that was lined with small bumps and spikes. The thick skull may have been used for head-butting during mating displays
  • pachychromatic – having coarse chromatin threads [not thick musical scales]
  • pachydactylyabnormal enlargement of fingers and toes
Restoration of a specimen with a cranial lesion. By Ryan Steiskal. CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic.

I figured out pachycephalosaurus and pachydactyly before looking them up, I’m pleased to say, since it means I haven’t forgotten all my Greek roots.

I then thought about random thought, and so googled “random brain,” and found an article (Cosmos, May 18 2017) describing a study in which

Neuroscientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) in Lisbon, Portugal, reveal the unexpected finding in a report that aims to unpack how humans and other animals decide how and when to act.

Neuroscientists have long accepted that even in strictly controlled laboratory conditions, the exact moment when a subject will decide to act is impossible to predict.

In short, the scientists found that “‘[t]he brain’s prefrontal cortex – the seat of decision-making – has no input into the timing of random actions,'” but that

“‘[t]he medial prefrontal cortex appears to keep track of the ideal waiting time based on experience. The secondary motor cortex also keeps track of the ideal timing but in addition shows variability that renders individual decisions unpredictable.'”

The researchers were surprised at discovering the “‘not-well-appreciated “separation of powers” within the brain.'”

Human brain. Via Wikipedia. Public domain.

Personal observation underscores the finding: It’s four p.m., and William and Ernest are lying in the kitchen, watching David prepare their dinner and insulin injections. Several times a day they watch David go to the kitchen but at four o’clock they follow him. Their actions must be based on experience; hence the medial prefrontal cortex determines their action, and David’s as well. Human experience shows that if dinnertime is random, cats chew the carpet, a consummation devoutly not to be wished.

In the course of my mental ramblings, I thought of other things: Miss Petunia, an old neighbor well worth two or three posts, and more appropriate to the day, but better left to my putative novel.

Then there was my misuse of since in the paragraph following pachydactyly, because since means because, which I just used properly.

I also thought of stories about Mr. F., Mr. J., and Miss Fl., also not the best post material. To get them out of my system, I just put them in an email to a friend who has long suffered random thoughts I can’t make post-public.

I thought about changing the appearance of my blog, because I’m tired of looking at it, but how would I display my photographs so prominently?

Gorilla in San Francisco Zoo. By Brocken Inaglory. CC BY-SA 3.0

Continue reading “#AtoZChallenge 2020: P Is for Poem and the Prefrontal Cortex”

Y Is for Y’all–Dictionary +: #atozchallenge



Note: I wrote the following early on Saturday, April 27, Y-Day, but left posting until I returned from hearing La Boheme at Austin Opera. I got home later than expected, however, and forgot to post. When I remembered, it was already the 28th. I could have beaten myself up for fouling out of the challenge with only Y and Z to go. Instead, I said to myself, “Somewhere in this world it’s still Saturday.” So here’s my Saturday post



Today’s AtoZ post, unlike previous posts, is informational. It’s also intended to be educational and to help people not in the know to avoid egregious errors.

The topic is Y’all.

First, is y’all a word? Yes. It appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as a contraction used informally to mean “You-all.”

The OED, because it has Oxford in the title and is published by Oxford University Press is, of course, like the New York Times, the King James Bible, and Shakespeare,  the authority.

(I didn’t really need to consult the OED, because I already knew it’s a word.)

Unfortunately, that’s all the OED says about y’all, but other dictionaries offer more information. Dictionary.com (DC) points out that it’s a pronoun, “U.S. dialect abbreviation of you all.”  Merriam Webster_ (MW) says, “variant of YOU-ALL, chiefly Southern: YOU usually used in addressing two or more persons.” The Urban Dictionary (UB) says it’s  “Southern 2nd person plural pronoun. “

This takes us to the second question, which is where the egregious errors come in: Is y’all a singular pronoun or a plural pronoun?

As noted above, both MW and the UB  point out that it’s plural. It is properly used when addressing one person, or one person who represents family, organization, etc.” (MW)

Script writers would do well to take note of that fact.

For more on number, read on.

Question three: Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or general hickiness?

Yawl, not y’all

Y’all speakers might refrain from saying the word when in formal situations, such as job interviews, discussions with English professors or waiters at extra-nice restaurants, or conversations with English-speaking residents of non-American continents.

More on this a few paragraphs down.

Now, I can hardly believe this, and I’m not sure it’s wise on their parts, but both MW and UB allow people to comment. Comments don’t see proper in a dictionary, but there you have it.

I’m afraid quoting them here will lower the level of discourse and will possibly render the blog family unfriendly. But we’ve seen a lot of that kind of thing lately. Many formerly unprintable words, as well as formerly unprintable insults, are now flung about with abandon.

So what the heck.

Warning: The following content hints at emotions that non-y’all users may consider offensive, but THEY ARE NOT INTENDED AS INSULTS–THEY’RE TONGUE IN CHEEK–TO LAUGH AT, NOT TO OFFEND–Y’ALL SPEAKERS DO LAUGH THEMSELVES OURSELVES.

Regarding, “Is it a word?”

“It is acceptable proper English. It is even in the Oxford dictionary and has been used for over 200 years. It’s used in other countries where English is present as well. ” (MW)

“I lived it.
Texas to Georgia and back again.” (MW)

“Because if Outlook tells me one more time it isn’t in the dictionary, and thus, isn’t a word, I am throwing my computer. Y’all just don’t know!) (MW)

“Y’all damn right it’s proper English” (MW)

Yawl, not y’all

Then, “Is y’all singular or plural?”

“Despite the assurance of some emails that have been passing around, “y’all” is plural. Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

And finally, “Does the use of y’all demonstrate the speaker’s poor education, ignorance, or hickiness?”

“Despite what some think, it is not only used by hicks and the uneducated. People from all walks of life, traditionally the southern states use it.” (UB)

“And mind you, that we southerners get very offended when stupid people think anyone who says it is a hick. Shut the hell up.” (UB)

“The best way to address two or more people. . . . Better than: you guys, youse guys, and you all! Yes, I live in Southern Alabama, and yes, I attended Harvard!” (UB)

“Only an absolute idiot would use it as a singular pronoun.” (UB)

I hope this post about y’all has been enlightening. Most non-y’all speakers, upon hearing the word, are taken aback and respond by teasing the speaker. No one in his right mind could be offended by a little teasing. As I said, y’all users recognize their own peculiarities and can, and do, laugh along with the teaser.

Some non-y’all speakers, however, seem to have no consideration for the y’all speaker’s feelings. One such remark appears among the comments in the Merriam Webster:

“Heard some dumbass woman from Texas say it.”
But instead of taking offense, a y’all speaker responded in a most respectful manner:

“Bless your simple heart.”



Making Whoopee and Little Black Books

I’m a distractible adult.

I wasn’t a distractible child, but things change.

I blame the Internet. Open it to check one thing, and I’m lost for hours.

It’s like a dictionary. You know how it is: you look up ablative and right below it you see ablative absolute, and before you can close the book, you see abhenry and abraham’s bosom, and before you know it you’re on zedonk and zyzzyvas. It’s the Ice Age equivalent of web surfing.

Today the dictionary and the web got together and here I am writing a post.

I opened my email (the first mistake ) and there was my daily post from Dictionary.com with the word of the day. I usually skip those. Sometimes I already know the word; sometimes I just don’t want to get hooked. Today’s word is messan–interesting enough to check out but surely not interesting enough to lead to disaster.

It turns out that messan, a noun, is Scottisha lap dog; small pet dog. The accompanying photo implies it’s a cute lap dog.

That’s good: a new word for my personal lexicon.

But–next mistake–scrolling down the page, I found a link to “Superb Owl and Other Copyright Loopholes.” Click bait. And then “Words (and Phrases) That Will Show Your Age.” Couldn’t resist that. Click.

Words that show my age: fuddy-duddy; web surfing; Dear John letter; How’s tricks?; Davenport and Chesterfield; long-distance call; VCR and videotape; little black book; wet-blanket; making whoopee; Rolodex™; Pet Rock™; mood ring; “Just one more thing”; “The thrill of victory (and the agony of defeat)”; “Up your nose with a rubber hose”; Fotomat; Walkman; Pigpen, you got your ears on?; “Good night, John Boy.”

Instead of saying, “Hahaha, I’m not old enough to remember that,” I have to admit I knew all of them without looking them up, but I don’t use them all. When I was a child, I heard some from older people. Wet-blanket was in general usage (until I read the article, I thought it still was). My mother explained Dear John letter, and, having lived through World War II, said it was a pretty awful thing to send to a soldier overseas. She also explained little black book, which I probably first heard on television; I don’t think I knew anyone who had one.

How’s tricks? also came from television, but I never heard it elsewhere. I guess fuddy-duddy came from television, too, or maybe my mom said it once or twice, but just to be amusing. Most of the adults I knew were over forty and immune to television language.

Back then, most long-distance calls were made after 9:00 p.m., when the rates went down. They were usually from my grandmother in Dallas, and were pre-arranged by letter so we knew when to expect them. The line crackled, and speakers on both ends had to repeat a lot. An un-prearranged call after nine, long-distance or not, meant bad news, or, sometimes, a new baby.

In Fentress, there was an unspoken rule that no calls were made after nine except in exceptional circumstances. The only mention of the rule occurred when my high school English teacher asked if it was a rule or just a tradition her family observed.

Fentress residents made many long-distance calls; the only town that wasn’t long-distance was Prairie Lea, the same size as Fentress, two miles away.

I refused to initiate all such calls because I was too shy to talk to a live operator. At eleven, I had a baptism of fire. I’d gone with my piano teacher and her other students to a dog show in Austin, and when we returned to her house in Martindale, I had to call my mother, seven miles away, to come for me. I was embarrassed to tell Miss Louise that I avoided operators.

I called my mother because, except for calls from long-distance family, my father rarely used the telephone. He wore a hearing aid, the kind worn in a harness against the chest, and often had to ask people to repeat. He left a job because it required frequent long-distance calls, often from high-ranking military personnel relaying sensitive information. A misunderstanding could have resulted in an airplane going down. He was also embarrassed to ask them to say things a second time.

While we were visiting his aunt one evening, her four-year-old granddaughter crawled into his lap and asked about the button  in his ear and the attached wire. He gave the usual explanation–“It’s my telephone”–and let her feel case under his shirt. A few minutes later the aunt’s telephone rang and the child turned to him and said, “Is that yours?” She looked so pleased, and so hopeful, it was a shame to disappoint her.

But back to words and phrases.

“Making Whoopee” was the title of a song I heard sung by Julie London when I was ten. She sang it slowly, in that smoky voice that was hers alone, on an LP (another word I remember) my cousin had standing in a record rack. The cover had a green background and showed Julie in profile from just below the shoulders, red hair flowing down, her face turned toward the camera. She wore a skinny strapless dress positioned so low that it made my mother say, “My goodness.” I would have simply died to wear a dress like that.

Twelve years later, Julie was a regular on TV’s Emergency! wearing a nurse’s uniform complete with cap. After the LP cover, that was such a come-down for her, and for me, a memory tarnished. She deserved better.

I began this post for a specific purpose but so far haven’t fulfilled it, but I must leave the rest for another day. I recently vowed to write posts of no more than five hundred words, and this already tops nine hundred.

Long-distance calls distracted me.


baptism of firenoun; the first time a soldier faces battle; any severe ordeal that tests one’s endurance.

From Wikipedia, the origin of the phrase:

“The phrase baptism by fire or baptism of fire is a phrase originating from the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:11.

“Matthew 3:11 “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptizeyou with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” King James Version 1611

“The phrase also occurs in Luke 3:16 and it might be taken as a reference to the fiery trial of faith which endures suffering and purifies the faithful who look upon God’s glory and are transformed, not consumed (Mark 10:38, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:7, 1 Peter 4:12). See also Dante’s Purgatory 27:10-15.”

Note: Nothing about telephones.


trunk call – noun; (mainly Brit); a long-distance telephone call


ablative absolute – noun, Latin Grammar.  a construction not dependent upon any other part of the sentence, consisting of a noun and a participle, noun and adjective, or two nouns, in which both members are the ablative case, as Latin viā factā “the road having been made.”