A Guide to Mathematical Language and Jargon

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Knowing which set of math terms to employ here is difficult. Much of what is used depends on the type of math and field of study. Most of us understand words like multiply, divide, fractions, decimals, and so on. It's the math that hits about high school age that begins to make it tough for people who did not go on with their math education. So, with that in mind, let's hit a few of the more well-known and often-used terms.

When you factor a number you break it down into the smaller numbers that can be multiplied together to make the larger number. For example, 2 is a factor of 4, 10, 36, and every other even number. If a smaller number can be evenly divided into a larger number then we say the smaller number is a factor of the larger number. If a number only has factors of itself and 1, it is a prime number. Prime numbers are like 3, 5, 7, and so on.

In algebra, variables are first encountered. Variables are letters or symbols used as a place marker when the precise number is not known. In the equation x=2+4, until we add 2 and 4 together x remains a variable. When we replace it with the solution, which is 6, the six is called a constant. The x can theoretically be any number, but 6 can only be constantly 6.

Two overused terms from statistics are the mean and the median. Many use the terms interchangeably, but they are somewhat different. The median describes the middle number or pair of numbers that occur at exactly the midpoint in a series of ascending or descending numbers. For example, in the series: 1,3,5,6,9,14,25, the number 6 would be the median.

The mean is the average. It is reached when all of the numbers in the series are added together and divided by the total count of the numbers. In the same series, the mean would be: 63/7 or 9. If the numbers have enough variance, the difference between the mean and the median can be substantial.

When you take all of the counting number up to a point and multiply them together, it is a factorial. To say 5 factorial is to mean: 1x2x3x4x5 or 120. This is used in computing some advanced forms of probability or odds.

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