[Maths-Education] Re: References about the history of the symbol m
for gradient of line
David A Reid
maths-education@nottingham.ac.uk
Thu, 12 Sep 2002 10:22:18 -0300
This reminds me of a thread either here or on the sci.math newsgroup some years ago. We are about to be flooded with complaints
that the other parameter for a linear equation isn't /c/, it's /b/ (in North America) or /a/ (in UK? Australia?)
I usually pretend that /m/ comes from the French verb Monter (To go up) and that it was Descartes' idea. I have no historical
evidence for this at all, but it makes a good story.
As for the constant term a or b or c,
/a/ makes sense because Descartes used letters at the beginning of the alphabet for parameters, and the constant term is the
first such parameter in the equation (not counting /m/ because we already dealt with that one), so it makes sense to use the
first letter of the alphabet.
/b/ makes sense because it is the second parameter so we should use the second letter of the alphabet, because /a/ SHOULD have
been used instead of /m/.
/c/ makes sense because it is the first letter of constant, and because the constant term of a quadratic function uses /c/ for
the constant term (for a totally different reason).
I look forward to other perspectives on this. Perhaps we should create a map of letter usage. It might reveal something about
the spread of mathematics teaching around the world.
David
M.Nxawe@ru.ac.za wrote:
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> Dear members
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> I was working with a group of high school teachers generating a concept for
> Functions, and one of them asked the group on the origin of the use of m as the
> gradient of a line. The assumption was that we can predict that c is from the
> word constant. Almost all our sessions on mathematics teaching have a bias
> towards history.
>
> Thank you in anticipation
>
> Mthunzi Nxawe
> Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project
> PO Box 94
> Grahamstown
> 6140
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A number making a noise in an examination (7)
-- 9 Across, Globe and Mail, Aug. 19 2002
Answer to previous:
It often involves unknown quantities (7)
ALGEBRA