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Re: Fwd Puzzling Questions
Posted:
May 25, 1995 10:24 PM


> From: Patsy_Fagan@qmbridge.drake.edu > To: ToniU@aol.com (ToniU) > > As to why m is used for slope, one explanation is that Rene Descartes was > French and the word for mountain is montagne, hence he used the first > letter of the word. Why the letter 'b' is used for yintercept is still a > mystery to me. > >
Dear List Readers,
The question about slope reappears from time to time like a nightmare. It has nothing to do with Descartes, the French language or moutains. My source of information is Professor Fred Rickey, an internationally respected mathematician and mathematics historian. Fred has been studying the subject for some time. At this time there is no, and I repeat NO, evidence to suggest where the use of "m" for slope originated. Fred says the the earliest use he has found has been in the early l800's.
Please understand that mathematics history, as any area in mathematics, requires documentation. We cannot assume an explanation without an acceptable source. Dr. Fred Rickey is an expert.
I am sorry if I appear a bit hyper about mathematics history. It is a passion with me. It is also a field which requires sophisticated research. History can't be made up to appeal to the masses (I am afraid, it sometimes is).
If any of you all are interested in the international history and pedagogy of mathematics group to which I belong, just write a separate letter. We are affiliated with ICME and NCTM. Many of our members speak at MAA and AMS meetings.
In San Diego next spring, my group (The International Study Group for the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics), will meet with members of the Ethnomathematics Study Group in a panel discussion. The focus will be mathematics and culture. I am honored, as well as my friend, Erica Voolich, to be on the panel with eminent mathematicians of the fame of Felix Browder. Again, if you want more information, just drop a line.  
Cheers!
Karen Dee
Math History Lives!
Karen Dee Michalowicz VQUEST Math Lead Teacher/Trainer Upper School Mathematics Chair Virginia Quality Education The Langley School in Sciences and Technology 1411 Balls Hill Rd, McLean, VA 22012 USA 7033561920(w) EMail: kmichalo@pen.k12.va.us Fax: (703) 7909712 or KarenDM@aol.com



