Math Jargon

Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass
Alice & Humpty Dumpty

“Imagine the following scenario: you’re in math class, and the instructor passes a piece of paper to each student. It is announced that the paper contains Study Strategies for Students of Mathematics; you are to read it and make comments. Upon glancing at the paper, however, you observe that it is written in a foreign language that you do not understand!

Is the instructor being fair? Of course not. Indeed, the instructor is probably trying to make a point. Although the ideas in the paragraph may be simple, there is no access to the ideas without a knowledge of the language in which the ideas are expressed. This situation has a very strong analogy in mathematics. People frequently have trouble understanding mathematical ideas: not necessarily because the ideas are diffcult, but because they are being presented in a foreign language – the language of mathematics.

The language of mathematics makes it easy to express the kinds of thoughts that mathematicians like to express. It is:

  • precise (able to make very fine distinctions);
  • concise (able to say things briefly);
  • powerful (able to express complex thoughts with relative ease).

The language of mathematics can be learned, but requires the efforts needed to learn any foreign language.”

“One Mathematical Cat, Please! Ideas For Anyone Who Wants To Understand Mathematics”. 2021.


“Illustrated Mathematics Dictionary”. 2021.

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