Larry’s Lab

I met Larry while volunteering at a center for people with Aphasia. Aphasia is a speech disorder brought on by an injury to the brain- a stroke, or an accident. It hinders the ability to speak, to get words out, or when trying to say a word the wrong word comes out. The center has many different classes throughout the day, one of which is computer, where different programs are used to regain reading and language skills. I volunteered as a computer facilitator, helping members through the exercises in the programs. Larry was one of these members.

Larry did not have the type of Aphasia brought on by brain injury. He had Primary Progressive Aphasia, a form of cognitive impairment that involves a progressive loss of language function. It is caused by degeneration in the parts of the brain that are responsible for speech and language. It begins very gradually and initially is experienced as difficulty thinking of common words while speaking or writing. It progressively worsens to the point where verbal communication by any means is very difficult. The ability to understand what others are saying or what is being read also declines. In the early stages, memory, reasoning and visual perception are not affected by the disease and so individuals with PPA are able to function normally in many routine daily living activities despite the aphasia. However, as the illness progresses, other mental abilities also decline.

Larry was 62 when he began showing the signs of PPA. When I first met him he carried a briefcase with papers containing the work he had done as an architect and builder. He was always proud of his work, and shared with me the many projects he had worked on. We sat together at the computer for an hour twice a week and went through the programs that dealt with definitions of words, unscrambling sentences, reading and comprehension. He was aware that there were things he couldn’t remember or struggled with, but always said he didn’t understand why this was happening and why he couldn’t understand things. He was already robbed of the ability to make sense of the disease he had been struck with. He repeatedly told me he hoped the doctors could fix things for him. It was truly heartbreaking knowing there was nothing the doctors were going to be able to do, and his abilities would continue to decline.

We forged ahead week after week, though he stopped carrying his briefcase with his work, as he no longer really understood what his life has been and the work he had done. I watched him lose the ability to understand the meaning of words, when given three choices for a definition, he could not choose one. His decline forced me to start using uncomplicated programs, basic and simple, until those too became too challenging. I attempted to focus on the things he still could do, and felt awful about his awareness of things changing, and his inability to understand why the changes were occurring.

Over a period of close to three years I watched as Larry could no longer make sense of words and numbers. His response often when I would tell him the correct answer for something was “That’s an oddball.” As if now learning the meaning of a word was a new and strange occurrence for him.- so out of the blue. It was that regression into a sort of innocence that always pained me. Something so basic, that now seemed so profound to him.

I met with him on Monday and Wednesdays, and one Wednesday I came in and he asked me who I was. He had lost his ability to recognize faces. It was shortly after that he left the center, it was no longer able to provide the classes he could partake in.

Larry died two years ago, and his family is donating a new computer lab to the center this month in his memory. I received an invitation and it took me back to those years, when I first met him, when we would talk about his life before the center, when we would talk about why he couldn’t understand things, until we couldn’t talk at all anymore. It reminded me of the struggles he faced, that his family faced. It reminded me once again not to take for granted the abilities we have, the blessings in our lives, that something so basic as knowing the meaning of a word, or the ability to say that word, is not so basic for some.



Misled By Epitome

Daily Prompt: A misused word, a misremembered song lyric: tell us about a time you (or someone else) said or did something unintentionally funny.

In High School I can remember a classmate was called upon to read aloud a passage from a book. When she came to the word mis-led (to fool or deceive) she read the sl together and pronounced it misled -rhymes with tiled and a few snickers arose in class. She continued on and came to the word ep it o me- (something that is a perfect example of a particular quality or type) and pronounced it epitome like it rhymes with baritone- again to some snickering.

My BFF and I turned it into a personal joke, using the words incorrectly whenever we found the need to use them, and have continued to do so all these many years later.

Epitome Solution ComfortSeat

Daily Prompt: Pick Me Up

The Daily Prompt asks:

What is the one word or phrase that immediately cheers you up when you hear it?

I am an early riser, usually between 5:30 and 6 am. I immediately go down to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee. My husband usually gets up a little later, but everyday, when he gets up, he calls down from upstairs


It makes me smile everyday, and I then I know the day has officially begun.


Are You Decent?


My husband needed to drop something off at a friend’s house one day this week before going to work. He called first, as it was 8 o’clock in the morning, and said he’d like to come by, would it be okay.  He apologized for coming so early, and then jokingly asked, “Are you decent?” To which she replied with a howl of laughter and said yes.I realized that the phrase, “Are you decent?” is something only people of a “certain age” would ever say, or understand. My husband and our friend are both in their 60’s. I am not sure someone in their 20’s would be familiar with the phrase, let alone the word decent. According to The Word Detective, the phrase seems to have originated as a jocular usage among theater performers, as explained in a 1949 book by Ruth Harvey called “Curtain Time”: “Sometimes, if she knew one of the actors or actresses, she would knock at a door and call ‘Are you decent?’  (That old theatrical phrase startled people who didn’t belong to the theatre, but it simply meant ‘Are you dressed?’).” Given that actors would be well aware that government agencies as well as self-appointed Decency Cops were constantly monitoring stage productions for “indecency” during most of the 20th century, it’s likely that the “decent” in the phrase was a joking reference to the standards of propriety applied to performers on stage, and not just a random synonym for “dressed.”

Though “Are you decent?” is not an idiom, it made me think of idioms we use when speaking, and why we use them. An idiom is a word or phrase that is not taken literally, like “bought the farm” has nothing to do with purchasing real estate, but refers to dying. Sometimes an idiom is used as a short way of expressing a more complicated idea. Idioms are recognizable because the literal meaning might not make sense. If someone says they will “turn over a new leaf” after getting into trouble, we know they are not taking up gardening but are making a start on becoming a better person.  I do think  the use of idioms today is far less then when I was growing up. 

Other idioms and phrases that seem to have fallen out of use:

“It goes to show you.” something proves that something else is true.  You can get a bigger car for twice the price, but it has the same features as the smaller one, it just goes to show you – bigger might not necessarily be better

“Have a chip on your shoulder”  Being upset with something that happened in the past. Someone looking for a fight is said to have a ‘chip on their shoulder’. Originating with the nineteenth century U.S. practice of spoiling for a fight by carrying a chip of wood on one’s shoulder, daring others to knock it off.

Here’s a word I haven’t heard used in years:

“Forthwith”  immediately; without delay.  I remember going to have stationary and business cards printed up in the 1970’s.  (Remember those days before Vistaprint?) The man doing it for me was then in his 70’s. When I asked him for a time frame on when they would be done, he replied, “Forthwith.”

So I will leave you by telling you that today I am not down in the dumps at all, nor feeling like a fish out of water. Rather, I am going to make hay while the sun shines, and be over the moon because the temperature is supposed to reach 77 degrees. It is now time to get down to brass tacks, and though a bitter pill to swallow I must get off  Wordpress as I fear I have bit off more than I can chew  for today, which may lead me to burn the midnight oil.

What Did You Say?

Today’s NY Times had a dialect survey/quiz.   American English can be impossible- so many words that sound the same but are spelled differently, or spelled in a way that seems to make no sense. Why doesn’t put rhyme with but? But putt does? Then there are regional differences, in the NY area, we call the little things that go on ice cream or icing on cakes, sprinkles. But in New England they are called Jimmies. A stream  can be an arroyo in the South West, a branch in the South, a brook in the North East, a crick in the West, and a run in Ohio, West Virginia & Maryland. And here’s the breakdown for how pajamas is pronounced.pajamas

The survey asks multiple choice questions about how you pronounce words, or what you call things, and shows you on a map of the United States the areas most similar or least similar to your answer. At the end it pinpoints on the map in what area your manner of speech is most commonly heard. Sure enough, it pinpointed me to within a few miles of where I actually live. I have been told I sound like a New Yawka (Yorker) I tend to turn my r’s into a’s and can pronounce my ending g’s a little hard. I have a friend who is British and I crack up when she changes her beautiful Queen’s English to imitate my New Yorkese. She has taught me that in England a sweater is a jumper, and knickers are underwear, not what we refer to as knickers here! knickers

Our differences in how we say things and what we call them make for an interesting world. You just need to know how to say what depending on where you are!