Newsweek recently had an article about the aging brain. Some of the news is as bad as you might imagine: reasoning ability peaks at about age twenty-eight (only 6 percent of top scorers are in their fifties, and only 4 percent are in their sixties). Now, I tell people all the time that I’m still twenty-five in my mind, but … twenty-eight? Holy smoke. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry.
But then—a bone. “In real life,” we’re told, “rather than in psych labs, people rely on mental abilities that stand up very well to age and discover work-arounds for the mental skills that do fade.” Of course, for me the work-around consists of a quick game of lexicographic charades while the Boy stands there, rolling his eyes. Oh, you know, honey. Begins with a C. [Some hand-flapping.] Kind of like consecutive. One after the other, in order. Oh, I got it—chronological. [Sigh of relief.] I could only think of garage sale the other day, when I really wanted flea market. Let me tell you, when you’re working in the second-floor office with felines for officemates, you really have to have work-arounds.
Thank God for P. M. Roget, no? I have several thesauruses (including a 1941 edition), but I keep coming back to my fave, Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus in Dictionary Form(Dell, 1993), which I’ve loved so often and so well it is held together with packing tape. I work around the loose pages. I have newer ones, but none I love as much as this one.
But you gotta stock up for those work-arounds, kids. I have translation dictionaries for French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, and Gaelic. A rhyming dictionary. Richard A. Spears’sSlang and Euphemism: A Dictionary of Oaths, Curses, Insults, Ethnic Slurs, Sexual Slang and Metaphor, Drug Talk, College Lingo, and Related Matters (Signet, 2001). (Regular readers of this humble blog might well conclude its author has a dirty mind but I assure you it’s all in the interest of the manuscript. All in the interest of the manuscript.)
This is an interesting one: English Through the Ages: From Old English to Modern-Day Slang, a Word-by-Word Birth Record of Thousands of Interesting Words, by William Brohaugh (Writer’s Digest Books, 1998). It’s organized by timelines (“in use by 1150” to “in use by 1990”) and then grouped by categories (Geography, the Body, Everyday Life, Insults, and so on) so you can browse for related words. Fun times.
And no home reference library is complete with out a copy of Eric Partridge’s classic Shakespeare’s Bawdy (first published in 1947), which has helped make the study of Shakespeare infinitely more interesting for generations of high school students.
But what’s really good for your brain? That thing about crossword puzzles keeping you sharp—it’s a myth. “What does support mental acuity as we age,” the Newsweek article concludes, “is the same thing that’s good for your heart, lungs, immune system, and muscles: aerobic exercise such as brisk walking. A seminal study by scientists at the University of Illinois found that three vigorous, 40-minute walks a week over six months improves memory and reasoning.” Guess I’ll break out my cross-trainers.
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