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Mathematical terms adopted in general use

  1. May 10, 2009 #1


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    I might as well get a reaction on these idle thoughts or I will continue to think them.

    Something must be left over from schoolroom or uni because it seems to me a number mathematical terms have been incorporated into everyday or colloquial language.

    One that I think is relatively recent is 'factor out'. It is used in close to mathematical meaning, you have a problem about F but F = f X g, so you can factor out f and worry just about g.

    The best other example I can think of is 'a function of'.

    Others are in terms of, lowest common denominator occasionally l.c. factor , exponentially.

    We have to consider whether any example is really an example. An infinite number of examples maybe did not come from maths?

    Nor maybe go off on a tangent? - though that always makes me picture a circle with a tangent line and a point moving round the circle but when it meets the tangent goes along that.

    Of most interest are fairly widespread ones, not very slangy or confined to a small circle, e.g. students, at least let us distinguish them (general solutions more than special cases?) and talk about where we think they came from. Though maybe colloquial things do start in small circles - I have an impression that 'factor out' which I cannot remember in use ten or twenty years ago started with people who need to sound streetsmart, financial advisors, estate agents,...

    I cannot resist quoting one which I read is confined to Philadelphia - factorial. As in "She's size 12" "No man, she's size factorial 12!". Quite witty!

    No doubt there will be some transatlantic differences.
    Any thoughts or other examples?
    Last edited: May 10, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2009 #2
    Prime numbers and subprime crisis.
  4. May 10, 2009 #3
    A valley girl thing "... and, you know, XYZ..." where XYZ refers to an unknown or long series of things that the speaker does not wish to actually name.
  5. May 10, 2009 #4
    I think most of the examples you listed are more likely things that started out being non-mathematical concepts and were later adopted as being mathematical
  6. May 10, 2009 #5
    I don't have any good examples, but I always enjoy seeing phrases in ordinary language that also have precise mathematical meaning:

    "select a variety of points from the following diagram..."

    "there are many categories remaining to be explored..."
  7. May 10, 2009 #6


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    I tried not to have those; there are some borderline cases I discuss. Let us see what some others think.
    Last edited: May 10, 2009
  8. May 10, 2009 #7


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    One that impressed me was used by James P. Hogan in one of his books. It involved a parallel universe that people were travelling back and forth to from ours. The people were duplicated on both worlds, so nobody could tell which one belonged where. The alternate world had never had a cold war. The hero detected the villainess on the alternate world because...
    ...she used the term 'went ballistic' in describing someone's behaviour. That phrase was born with the missile crisis.
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