Thursday, December 18, 2014

If 2+2 = 4 in math, what is the answer in maths?

When I was a school kid, one grandmother lived with us for a few years till her death.  She was mighty pleased with whatever we said we did in our classes.  As one who was not schooled beyond the third grade, she was unfamiliar with many words we used that were from the English language.   We kids, of course, would immediately correct her, to which one of her responses, in Tamil, was "I didn't go to a fee-paying school system."

For instance, she referred to "maths" as "maks."  If only she knew that in the US, it was not even maths but math; I wonder how she would have pronounced "math."

The self-appointed spokesman for the "Queen's English" often harasses me for my American spellings, way more than the trouble I gave my grandmother.  So, what is the deal with maths v. math, right?
Americans and Canadians tend to say math while Brits and Australians opt for maths.
The welfare queen, er, Her Majesty, might think that maths is the correct contraction for mathematics.  Not so fast:
In the 17th century, English speakers fell under the spell of a peculiar linguistic fad. With some exceptions, they started to use a seemingly plural form of a field of study to refer to it in the singular. Enter physics, acoustics, economics, acrostics. The rule wasn’t applied uniformly: Disciplines that had been around for a while, such as arithmetic, had already rooted deeply enough in people’s minds to avoid the trend. But mathematic, the classical and somewhat arcane science of all things numerical, acquired an S.
Are you thinking what I am thinking after reading that?  "What the hell is acrostics?"  If you are "puzzled" then go figure that out yourself; I Do It Only Tuesdays!

Where was I?  Yes, about mathematic.  
Math as an autonomous term for mathematics came first to the United States, in 1890.
So, what about in Britain?
The British maths cropped up in 1911, and both terms leapt in usage for their respective countries during the second half of the 20th century.
Wait, so all these mean that there is no damn logic in why and how usages like math and maths developed?
Really, though, fate and chance factor into linguistic trends as much as anything. It only takes a few solemn Oxford whizzes talking about maths before much of London catches on, and then Australia, and then … you do the maths.
Which means if there were enough people like my grandmother, then we might have as well ended up with "maks"?  Well, you do the math! ;)

PS: remember how 2+2 =5 in 1984?


3 comments:

Ramesh said...

The people I want to bash up are the Canadians. You lot are beyond redemption. But the Canadians ??? Shame on them.

In case they have forgotten, Her Majesty is still their Head of State and she is still their Queen. Yes, Uncle Sam is nearby, but should they really lose their uniqueness and , heaven forbid, become the fifty first state ??

O ye Canucks - when you can say zed, instead of the awful zee, can you not stay with maths :):)

Sriram Khé said...

Give up on the Queen, my friend. Embrace Uncle Sam and give us your wallet ;)

Sriram Khé said...
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