Date: May 25, 1995 10:24 PM
Author: Karen Dee Michalowicz
Subject: Re: Fwd- Puzzling Questions

> From:
> To: (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 y-intercept 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

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.


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
703-356-1920(w) E-Mail:
Fax: (703) 790-9712 --or--