Monday, 31 December 2012

Algebra

The man himself on a Soviet stamp commemorating his 1200 birthday
I think his book could have had a punchier title, but then what do I know?  

 ALGEBRA

Noun. Late Middle English.
[Italian, Spanish, medieval Latin, from Arab al-jabr, from AL- +jabr reunion of broken parts, from jabara set broken bones, reunite, restore. The term achieved currency in the title of a book, 'ilm al-jabr wa'l-mukabala' 'the science of restoring what is missing and equating like with like', by the mathematician al-Kwarizmi (cf. ALGORISM).] 

1 obsolete. The surgical treatment of fractures. LME-M16

2 The part of mathematics which investigates the relations and properties of numbers or other
mathematical structures by means of general symbols; a system of this based on given axioms. M16

Algebra, for anyone not interested in mathematics, has a horrible reputation. I speak from experience, having failed maths in school, and not having had a proper grasp of even the most basic mathematical principles until my late twenties. However, when I did attack mathematics as an adult, I must say that I found algebra damned interesting! And that was before I had even discovered the etymology of the word!

It's takes a bit of thought to make the connection between the mathematical meaning of the word and its etymology, but if you think of an algebraic equation (2x + 10 = 20, for example), it is, in a sense, fractured because the x represents a break in the normal run of numbers.

When I was in school, I considered maths to be about as fun as a fracture. Oh the irony!

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