Additional Math Pages & Resources

Friday, February 18, 2011

When is one not one? Part V

I'm very nearly finished with the subject of collective words in English and how they are related to math. We do not explicitly teach these words, as they fall into the language arts area in schools, but we do point out to kids when they need to know that a word has an effect on math.

So let's get to the last of this series on how we use this number sense when we grow up.

A few English words are neither singular nor plural, but instead imply two and TWO only. They are called dual words. For example:
  • both of us 
  • twice
  • either/or
  • neither/nor
  • former/latter
  • twin
  • tandem (a bicycle built for two - this one is mine!)

However, you can find troublesome exceptions to this duality 

Either normally implies  

  - one or the other but not both (Either Darcie or I will leave work first today.)

But without any warning, it may also mean

 - both (We have parking places on either end of the building.)

We can use other words that increase the count beyond duality. Here are some examples:
  • thrice, an archaic word meaning three times
  • triple, meaning three
  • triad, meaning a group of three
  • trinity, meaning three (and often implying three in one)
  • triplet, meaning three children born at the same time (or a bicycle for three)

Can we get beyond three? Indeed we can. Quad, Quint, etc. You get the idea. And if you'd love to have one of these fancy multi-seat bikes, you can contact Santana Cycles.

There are a few special words in English that imply:

- lots of participants doing something

or even though it is not stated explicitly, they might mean:

- a few doing something many times over

For example:
  • stampede, drive or round-up of cattle or other livestock
  • herd instinct is a closely-related concept
  • migration of birds and butterflies
  • exodus or diaspora or pilgrimage mean many people going, but with different nuances
  • rush as in a group of folks trying to get into a sorority, or to find gold first
  • massacre as in The Chicago St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, etc.
  • epidemic or pandemic  is used of a fast-moving disease
  • bandwagon effect when lots of people jump quickly onto the same subject
  • snowballing implies the same thing, and finally a more current term:
  • going viral as in My blog is going viral (albeit very slowly).

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