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How best to describe 'x'? ('Pronumeral'?)

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by mature_maths_trainee, Jan 16, 2011.

  1. mature_maths_trainee

    mature_maths_trainee New commenter

    I've seen that the Australian's use the term 'pronumeral' to describe 'letters that stand for a number'.
    Do we have an equivalent term or phrase? I particularly dislike using the term 'variable' because, in an equation, 'x' often has a constant/fixed value and so calling it a variable seems certain to promote deep conceptual mis-understandings and confusion. 'Parameter' doesn't fit well either. When finding a missing angle 'a' in a triangle, say, it doesn't seem appropriate to call it a parameter, and certainly not a variable. 'Attribute' is quite close (as used in some programming languages)?
    I would like to be mathematically accurate, without promoting mis-understandings. My only concern with 'pronumeral' is that it doesn't seem (at all) in common usage in the UK.
  2. When numbers stand in for values they are either variables or unknowns

    These are different and I am not sure what the advantage would be in suggesting that they are the same by giving them a single name
  3. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    Good! Let's keep it that way, please. Variable and unknown seem quite sensible terms to me. Anything else is a solution looking for a problem...
  4. I agree. I'm very happy with the term 'unknown' in the context of solving equations, however elementary, or wanting to find the value of something marked on a diagram. The term 'variable' is also very clear once one gets on to functions and drawing graphs. The term 'parameter' is only for grownups.
    I would rather not burden the kids with another term like 'pronumeral' that only 1 in a 1000 maths teachers will have encountered. Keep it away from me.

  5. I agree... Variables or unknowns depending on context but not forgetting constants when generalising or integrating.
  6. Oh golly gosh, but aren't some 'constants' unknown until one discovers their values?
    It is a quagmire. Help, I'm drowning.
  7. A constant c is still an unknown [​IMG]
  8. Like any other unknown a constant is unknown until it is known. Sometimes it stays unknown.


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