100 Words

When I lived in Switzerland for graduate school in 1978, I took a Christmas trip to Italy with a friend. I was worried about not speaking the language but my friend’s roommate, who was studying linguistics, said to just learn 100 basic words and use them freely without regard to grammar. A word for me, you, them, goes with a verb without conjugation. A word for later and earlier substitutes for tenses. I tried it and he was right that people really appreciated the effort and made sense out of very few words. I have followed this technique repeatedly and regretted it when I didn’t.

When my family spent the summer of 2006 in Europe so I could write my first book, Driving Innovation, I made a list of what I thought the 100 words should be and I had the children write the translations in tabular form for Spanish and French. We used it in our travels to good effect.

We recently found the yellow sheet with the list of 100 words. (Well, it was actually 75 words.) It was in a phrase book for most European languages that was my traveling companion for many years.

Now that I can’t talk and spelling is slow with the Tobii eye gaze system and slower with a glance chart, I make do communicating  with nods and shakes of my head or directing my stare at the thing I am concerned with. If people are patient and ask me lots of yes/no questions, we can communicate successfully.

If you are reading this, you are capable of memorizing 100 words. In writing this post, my two college graduate children and I have added 25 words to the original 75 from the yellow sheet to make it an even 100. Feel free to customize the list as you desire. Here they are:

  1. Yes
  2. No
  3. Hello
  4. Goodbye
  5. Please
  6. Thank you
  7. I’m sorry
  8. Excuse me
  9. Where is…?
  10. How much (cost)?
  11. When
  12. Who
  13. I/me
  14. You
  15. He/him
  16. She/her
  17. It
  18. They/them
  19. Man
  20. Woman
  21. This
  22. That
  23. Here
  24. There
  25. And
  26. Or
  27. Toilet
  28. Police
  29. Restaurant
  30. Hotel
  31. Bank/ATM
  32. Taxi
  33. Do you speak English?
  34. I don’t understand
  35. What does ___ mean?
  36. Help
  37. I want…
  38. To eat
  39. To drink
  40. To find
  41. To sleep
  42. To read
  43. To have
  44. To be
  45. To do
  46. To make
  47. To need
  48. More
  49. Less
  50. A lot/lots
  51. A little
  52. Earlier
  53. Later
  54. Open
  55. Closed
  56. Good
  57. Bad
  58. Hot
  59. Cold
  60. Vegetarian
  61. Meat
  62. Fish
  63. Poultry
  64. The check
  65. Monday
  66. Tuesday
  67. Wednesday
  68. Thursday
  69. Friday
  70. Saturday
  71. Sunday
  72. 1
  73. 2
  74. 3
  75. 4
  76. 5
  77. 6
  78. 7
  79. 8
  80. 9
  81. 10
  82. 11
  83. 12
  84. 13
  85. 14
  86. 15
  87. 16
  88. 17
  89. 18
  90. 19
  91. 20
  92. 30
  93. 40
  94. 50
  95. 60
  96. 70
  97. 80
  98. 90
  99. 100
  100. 1,000

Pioneer

​Michael Gollin
July 2016

I am lost in a strange land between life and death.

My body rebels. 

My mind resists. 

I know the destination.

It is unavoidable.

The question I confront is how will I get there and when.

Most people don’t even recognize that this land exists.

But some admire me just for being here.

I am a pioneer.

I can’t use my hands or legs and I can’t talk or eat or breathe without a ventilator.

But I will find my way in the end.

House plants (or slow-moving pets, or Darwin is my gardener)

Michael Gollin
October 2015

The first frost sunset with fingernail new moon did not catch us unprepared. We had time to bring in the house plants before it got too cold. My favorite is a citrus tree I bought in Chinatown when I lived there in the 1980s. I used to stop by the florist sometimes on my way home from work, and one day I saw a cheerful plant with scented flowers and small green citrus fruits. I bought it for my loft apartment and each winter it blooms and fruits. It has been with us in Bowie the whole time. You can see where I pruned it decades ago.
My house plants are survivors.

In my office, colleagues praise my plants and tell me I have a green thumb. My response is that Darwin is my gardener. You don’t see my failures because they died and were removed. Dead twigs and leaves are pruned away. What’s left is green and healthy. Some were gifts. Some were cuttings. Some were rescued from trash. A few I bought. There’s a jade plant so big it is a shrub and a bushel-sized aloe vera, both of which have progeny around the office from cuttings. Everyone has a green thumb if you keep trying and occasionally learn from your mistakes. 

(Are house plants at the office “office plants”?)

Back at home, African violets are supposed to be temperamental. Not mine. It’s ten years old and gets no special treatment, but it still flowers throughout the year.

Snake plants can live a year behind the refrigerator according to a tale a friend told me. I haven’t tried that but I’ve never killed one.

I had a Norfolk Island pine (Araucaria heterophylla)  that grew from three feet until it hit the ceiling. I tried a fancy technique of rooting the top but it failed and the tree stayed outside that winter and froze. I should get a new one.

For me, house plants are like slow-moving pets.

America is socialist, duh, and we should be proud of it

Michael Gollin
July 2015

When the Trans-Siberian Railway stopped in Irkutsk in Central Siberia in 1981 and my Swiss student tour group got off for a couple of days so we could visit Lake Baikal, a group of local Soviet students met us and showed us around, including the obligatory Great War (WWII) monument. They were smart but spoke glowingly about  the future of communism.

I had a rare epiphany and said cogently that Marx and Lenin failed to predict Roosevelt and the New Deal and American socialism which stops the “inevitable” worker revolution of communism in its tracks. Socialism humanized a corrupt capitalism with robber barons and great recessions. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps are all examples of the ways in which America is socialist.

It always amuses me when people do not see we are already socialist. That is why our system is so much better than communism. We are able to benefit from free markets while avoiding the many pitfalls of unrestrained capitalism. The debate then is just how socialist we will be.