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Occasional ramblings by an anesthesiologist/mother (and sometimes her husband).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Misusing Math Terms

I have a bit of a pet peeve about people attempting to sound clever without the intelligence to pull it off. This is most common in politics. There are many who think that if it sounds witty, it counts as an argument. A good rule of thumb is that what you want people to do will fit on a bumper sticker (support this person or proposition, defeat this person or proposition), but no intelligent reasoning for it will.

As a math teacher especially, I get annoyed when I see math terms improperly used in an attempt to sound catchy.

A teacher I once saw, for example, many years ago, had a Christmas themed sweater that said , thinking it would be mathematical shorthand for Santa's Ho Ho Ho!

Anyone with even the most tenuous grasp of the Order of operations would realize that exponents are evaluated prior to multiplication. The exponent, therefore, applies only to the O. The teacher therefore, was saying Hooo.

One possible solution would be to use parentheses: . This, however, would result in HoHoHo, which would only be applicable if Santa spends his off-season as an auctioneer at county fairs.

A more proper rendition would be , or, if you wanted to keep it simple, , with or without parentheses. In any case, the Hos, to properly simulate how they are spoken, should be added, not multiplied.

What most bugs me, however, is the tendency to improperly use exponential notation in songs. I am reminded by it each time I watch the "bicycle" commercial for FreeCreditReport.com. The commercial is a parody of this song style, so my issue is not with the commercial per se. I shall instead refer to an example which uses this style in earnest.

The song "Fergalicious" is a classic example. During the second half of the song, a backup singer attempts to sing the word "delicious" by saying "d to the e to licious." In exponential notation, however, this would result in , which I am fairly certain is not the intended result.

This may be a little thing, but if you're going to say something you should actually know what you are saying. Otherwise you just come off looking like an idiot, and the rest of us are stuck with people who use "it sounded good" as a substitute for an actual reason.

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