This month I'm posting Mad-Cool-Math Nuggets to foster an appreciation for all things mathematical. (Because becoming a published author of fiction wasn't challenging enough. (Insert sarcasm mark here. Did that ever happen by the way?)) Am I using parenthesis way too much? I think yes.
Image courtesy: Ludie Cochrane
Okay, U is for unknown or variable. Is it just me, or should eighth grade algebra be renamed: The Quest for X? I mean, that's all I remember. Solve for x. Find x. Quadratic equations. Word problems. Every single time there was a variable whose value was unknown, we called it x. Maybe we should have used u for unknown or v for variable, but we didn't.
Why x? Well, it's not used as much in English compared to other letters. Using "a" could potentially be confusing since "a" is also a word. So what's up?
To the internet!
Guess what? There is a reason we use "x"! According to this article by LiveScience , an ancient Arabic algebra text from 820 A.D. used the word "thing" for variable. For example, 4 things equals 20 for scholars waaay back when would become 4X = 20 for kids today with a solution of "things" being 5 or X = 5 (because 4 times 5 is 20).
The Arabic word for "thing" was šay'. (Don't even think of asking for a pronunciation.) In the translation to Old Spanish, šay' became xei, which was later abbreviated to "x". Aha. Mystery solved.
Seen this image? You can get t-shirts or posters bearing this joke.
Image courtesy: Brandon I.
As a math professor, I would have viewed this as pathetic. The student just didn't study. But as a writer, I gotta give the student credit (or partial credit at least). The problem did not say "solve" or "find the value of" ; it said "find". Word choice matters, peeps. Am I right?
From today through Monday, you can download my novella, Ghosts of a Benevolent Place, for free. Here's a blurb:
Having an autistic child is plenty challenging. Now throw in a teenager, a perpetually traveling husband, and a full time job. Audrey Ericsson has it all and then some. One day, by a little gazebo on a forgotten stretch of Lake Ontario, Audrey meets Gloria, whose husband Winston suffers from Alzheimer's. The unlikely friendship that blossoms between Ian and Winston is nothing short of miraculous to Audrey. When Ian begins to spell out words with rocks on the beach, Audrey is first thrilled, then puzzled, and eventually frightened. Are the mysterious stone messages from Ian, Winston, or something else entirely? (Approx. 74 pages)