Math vocabulary sometimes makes sense

This is the first guest post from John Chase’s dad, also a math teacher.  Thanks, son, for letting me post to your blog.

Gene Chase:  I was taking a shower today when I figured out why I always confused the words “sequence” and “series.”  2, 3, 4, 5, … is a sequence; 2+3+4+5 is a series.  Until today, I thought that my confusion was because “series” and “sequence” both begin with “s.”  Now I see the real problem!  Teachers would say “sum the following series.”  They should have said “evaluate the following series,” since the series is already a sum.

Comment from John Chase:   In non-mathematical contexts we don’t differentiate between the two. We think of “television series” and a “series” of cars in a line at an intersection. How mathematically sloppy!

Gene Chase:  Yes, usually mathematical language is general language made more precise, not less precise.  For example, if you tell a story elliptically, you leave things out of it; if you tell the story parabolically, you give an analog of the story; if you tell the story hyperbolically, you embellish it.  The corresponding geometric figures have eccentricities which are either between 0 and 1 (ellipse), precisely equal to 1 (parabola), or greater than 1 (hyperbola).

This makes sense when you remember that “elliptic” is Greek for “defective,” “para” is Greek for “along side,” and “hyper” is Greek for “beyond.”

One thought on “Math vocabulary sometimes makes sense

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