Monday, August 08, 2011

when jargon creeps into colloquialism ..

it makes sense to think of maths as a language. it explains, for example, why students seem so able to write wholly nonsensical things on the pages of their calculus exam. [1]

on the other hand, the technical nature of mathematical jargon can be utterly confusing for the uninitiated. i mean something different from the ubiquity of "normal" (in the sense of normal subgroups, normal convergence, etc) and the loaded use of the word "trivial."

it's the smaller, subtler uses of technical words, like:

"modulo the republicans steering the debate to the right, congress will accomplish nothing this year."

"coke and pepsi are isomorphic, as far as i'm concerned."

last week for instance, i told my brother that 'if you condition on the fact that my last three relationships began when i was in a transition, then likely i'll never meet another woman again.'

when he asked me what the hell i meant by "condition," i explained to him what conditional probability is. (he subsequently thought it was a fine linguistic construct.)

tonight i told my friend that when it comes to real life, i don't feel embedded in it. when he asked me what i meant by embedded, i immediately said that sure, i feel immersed in things but that it wasn't quite a perfect fit.

after another odd look, i paused, thought a little, and told him that nowadays i feel a little less in touch with reality and society than i used to be .. which satisfied him.

[1] for instance, too often i've seen equal signs (=) treated as logical implication symbols (→). thinking about it, this is not so surprising: to most, mathematics is no more than computation, so an equals sign only confirms the logical progress of a computation.

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