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shameless pleading

Math vs. Maths

Count me out.

Dear Word Detective:  I am a sometimes math teacher. Occasionally, even a mathematics teacher. As such, I follow the latest and greatest on my subject and am troubled by the increasing use of the word “maths.” I know you usually look backward to enlighten us on words, but here we see a trend unfolding forward. (And to my ears, it’s a disturbing trend.) Could you explain why “math” now needs to be plural? None of my (younger) maths (?) colleagues are as interested in words as I am and so they shrug off the question. — Bill.

Kids these days, eh? I was never very good at math until a moment in, I believe, tenth grade, when a very gifted math teacher was explaining a trigonometry problem to me. Suddenly, I got it; everything became marvelously clear and I realized with a thrill that I had finally grasped the underlying beauty and grandeur of mathematics. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I promptly forgot everything I had just learned and went on to relentlessly flunk math until they let me give up. To this day I am not allowed to play with my own checkbook.

So I admire folks who genuinely “get it” and have mastered the numerical arts of algebra, trigonometry, geometry, necromancy and so on that constitute the field of knowledge known today as “mathematics.” The word “mathematics” itself, the source of all this “maths” business, comes from the Greek “manthanein,” meaning “to learn,” which is also related to our modern English words “memory” and “mind.” When “mathematics” entered the English language from French in the 14th century (in the form “mathematic”), it actually included any field that involved numerical calculation (astronomy, physics, etc.), and the broad scope of its Greek roots lives on in the English word “polymath,” meaning a person of expertise in many fields.

“Math” as a colloquial short form of “mathematics” first appeared in print quite a while ago, in 1847, although that “math” sported a period (“It rained so that we had a math. lesson indoors.”) and was thus clearly a simple informal abbreviation. “Math” unadorned appeared by the 1870s. “Maths” is a bit newer, first appearing in print in 1911.

There is no difference, however, between “math” and “maths” apart from that “s” on the end of “maths.” Occasionally you’ll hear arguments that “maths” is more proper because it’s short for “mathematics” and thus should be plural. But although the field we call “mathematics” includes multiple disciplines (such as geometry, calculus, etc.), “mathematics” is a collective noun (as is “physics,” etc.), so it’s considered singular. You can tell that from how “mathematics” is treated grammatically: we say “My favorite subject is mathematics,” not “… are mathematics.” The form “mathematics” actually represents what was a common practice, about the time of the first appearance of “mathematic,” of using the plural form of a name of a field of study as a singular noun, as in the case of “acoustics,” “physics,” “linguistics” and many others. Terms that came into English earlier, such as “arithmetic,” didn’t get that “s.”

The only truly relevant difference between “math” and “maths” is usage. “Maths” is commonly used in Great Britain, while “math” is standard in the US. I’m afraid that your cohorts’ sudden affection for “maths,” unless they studied in Britain, may be another case of Anglophiliac posturing by Americans. It’s the same sort of affectation that leads PBS addicts to speak of “the telly” and that gave us the now-omnipresent Brit invention “gone missing” on the news. But while “gone missing” arguably fills a real gap in the American vocabulary (it certainly beats the hyper-dramatic “disappeared”), “maths” on this side of the Atlantic strikes me as silly and vaguely pathetic. But you’re right; it does seem to be spreading. One participant in an online discussion of the “math vs. maths” question I came across reported having recently heard Garrison Keillor say “Do the maths” on his radio show. If Keillor actually did say it, I’m really, really hoping that he was joking.

181 comments to Math vs. Maths

  • Dr. Alsop

    Math vs Maths

    When one thinks of the word Math it is realized that all forms of mathematics included in that set are built form the same set of basic rules. When someone can find another type of Math that is not based on those rules then we will have multiple kinds (not branches of) of Math and can say we have Maths.

    I capitalized Math and Maths here for emphasis. It is probably a fair guess that most of the people arguing this topic are not mathematicians.

    As a side note, my word processor flags Maths as misspelled but does not flag Math.

    English was developed from many Germanic and other languages. To state that English was developed by the English is nonsense. When the language was first blended England did not exist as England.

    Mathematics is singular in that it refers to a single body of knowledge but Math refers to the components of that body of knowledge and is therefore plural. No one would argue the incorrectness of changing deer to deers or geese to geeses.

    Unfortunately, when some less than literate person makes and propagates errors such as these they eventually become part of the changing language. Elementary and secondary teachers are frequently the source of these errors and their propagation. Many times I have had to correct university students that have the habit of saying things like “ I am going to times it” or “ I plused or minused it”. They claim to have been taught this way and I have no reason to doubt that they were. I have personally heard teachers say these things, possibly out of a misguided attempt to make it easier for the student. However, they have not thought this approach through and it brings another level of illiteracy to the culture. Students are then left to sound mathematically illiterate and few people will take them seriously when they use such childish expressions.

    Instead of defending these errors, any intelligent and informed person would wish to correct the error rather than continue to propagate the mishap. The world is full of examples of groups within cultures who just can’t seem to get it right and pass on that ignorance to their progeny and the surrounding population.

    Often, it becomes in vogue to emulate these unfortunate beings as children seek their own unique identity. They do not have the experience to know that this emulation is neither unique nor literate. This is why they must be guided away from these influences and set on the path that will lead to their success rather than hinder opportunities. An example is they way American kids try to be “ghetto” or “gangsta”.

    It is also the case that adults with low self esteem will attach themselves to cute little things such as the European habit of crossing their sevens so they can feel they are more sophisticated than their peers. These fragile egos may be of above average intelligence but not at a level where they can realize the flaw in this line of thought.

    • Ryan

      I am shocked that one so intensely concerned with appropriate grammar and punctuation would commit an error so grievous as using capitalization for emphasis.

      Plus, crossing sevens is entirely functional if one has the tendency to write sevens that look like twos. As a mathematician, I have yet to find another who particularly cares how persons of different cultures parse the word, they’re typically much more likely to ask the Brit about their own research than their word usage.

      • Zac

        Before the Nineteenth Century, capitalization was used to emphasise a word much like underlining or italicising. If you look at the United States Constitution you will find that many seemingly random words are capitalized, and that is purely for emphasis. You can look at many writings from before the Twentieth Century and see capitalisation for emphasis. Although it’s not common usage any more, it could still be considered correct in some form.

      • Dave

        …And then not capitalise a title such a Mathematician. Lets not get started on the irrelevance of an American dictionary when dealing with English. It’s fair to have your deviation from the source, do please recognise though that it’s correct in it’s context, but may not be so in another.

    • JoeP

      Dr. Alsop,

      I learned to cross my sevens, zeros, and ones in the Marine Corps to help prevent misinterpretation. Though no longer in the service I occasionally still call the bathroom a head and a stairwell a ladderwell – among other military colloquialisms. Once things are ingrained they can become part of who we are with no pretense or superiority implied. Honestly, after 20 years of writing them that way a 7 unadorned with a cross just looks weird. ;)

    • SDM

      One may be forgiven for assuming that the rules of usage — in abbreviations and colloquial speech, anyway — are like the rules of physics after reading your rant. It’s hardly illiterate to tinker with words, and the idea that tradition is authoritative is laughable. If people like the way something sounds, and there is no strong logical case either way, they use it that way. End of story. No stupidity involved. It’s called “taste”…

  • Tom

    It’s maths because it’s more than one number (always) otherwise it’s called a number, saying math makes you sound stupid, you speak English and the English word is maths, bastardize it all you like it’s still English therefor it’s maths, if you want to speak a different language go ahead but you can’t teach granny how to suck eggs. Americans don’t even know how the whole world expresses the date without trying to mess that up as well. I suspect you forgot alot on the boat trip.

    • Unclever title

      Tom, don’t just assume because your country is older that it hasn’t modified it’s language over time as well. Reread this part of the article:

      “Math” as a colloquial short form of “mathematics” first appeared in print quite a while ago, in 1847, although that “math” sported a period (“It rained so that we had a math. lesson indoors.”) and was thus clearly a simple informal abbreviation. “Math” unadorned appeared by the 1870s. “Maths” is a bit newer, first appearing in print in 1911.

      Seeing as Math preceeds Maths then this is clearly a case of the English “bastardizing” (as you put it) their own language.

      No one nationality or country “owns a language.” People communicate as they will.

      Languages grow and develop naturally over time. Despite anyone’s whining to the contrary our respective cultures will continue to say things or change how we say things as much as we dang well please.

    • Adam

      I’m not sure that anyone who writes the paragraph

      “It’s maths because it’s more than one number (always) otherwise it’s called a number, saying math makes you sound stupid, you speak English and the English word is maths, bastardize it all you like it’s still English therefor it’s maths, if you want to speak a different language go ahead but you can’t teach granny how to suck eggs. Americans don’t even know how the whole world expresses the date without trying to mess that up as well. I suspect you forgot alot on the boat trip.”

      is really in any place to advise anyone on how to properly communicate in English.

  • Marty

    Well said Tom!
    I am equally perplexed by the number times I hear young Australians refer to ‘math’, we always followed the British tradition here and used ‘maths’ throughout my childhood but like many other aspects of our culture it’s suffering from the pressure of cultural imperialism. This is heightened through the saturation of multiple sit coms where the catch phrase ‘do the math’ has entered into the lexicon.

    • Joke99

      So just so we’re clear, as an Australian who’s so very sad over the loss of British ways, you must be a big fan of imperialism, right? It’s just the cultural variety of same that you don’t enjoy?

  • Chris

    Before anyone argues that “maths” is correct because mathematics is plural, one should establish that the “s” is what makes it plural. I personally do not consider the “s” to have any bearing on the singular vs plural nature of the word because not every word that ends in “s” is plural as a result. There is no such word as “mathematic” in common usage, and therefore the “s” at the end of “mathematics” is not an addition to pluralize a singular.

    If there was a word “mathematic” that was shortened to “math”, then it would certainly make sense to shorten “mathematics” to “maths”. But there is no such word in common usage, and the word mathematics, a collective plural for which the “s” has no special meaning”, is shortened to “math”. Using “maths” attributes a role to the “s” that it does not have in the word “mathematics”.

    • Billy

      Mate, I just looked up the word ‘mathematic’ in the New Oxford American Dictionary and it says that it is the singular of mathematics, which in turn says that ‘mathematics’ is the plural of mathematic. Therefore it would be right to say that mathematics is a plural, the same as maths is a plural of math. For that reason when talking about maths as a subject and general conversation, it should be referred to as maths, thus making americans wrong considering that this point comes from the New Oxford American Dictionary.

  • Chris

    Follow up:

    Americans abbreviate “calculus” as “calc”. Do Brits say “calcs”?

    Above, I referred to “mathematics” as a collective plural, but upon further reflection I wish to retract that. I do not think of “mathematics” as plural at all. Mathematics is A field of study, singular.

  • Rich

    To American ears “do the maths” sounds exactly like “shear the sheeps”.

  • YodaE

    Although the use of math instead of maths is quite rightly regarded as a heinous crime by right minded people, I can’t understand why people talk about mathematics for simple calculations when they really mean arithmetic. If arithmetic is too long for our north american brethren, try “sums”. I say this in the sure knowlege that, if adopted, “sums” will morph into “sum”

  • B.D. Sheehan

    Quite a good bit of vitriol here about the addition (or deletion) of one letter! (e.g., “…if you want to speak a different language go ahead but you can’t teach granny how to suck eggs.”). I suppose everyone has extra time on their hands? Or maybe your boiling point is exceedingly low?

    The argument about right or wrong is a complete waste of time. It’s “Math” in the U.S. and “Maths” in the UK/Commonwealth. That’s it. End of story. Please just accept it… we’re different and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I assume that somewhere, hidden on the Internet, there must be spirited debates over “Behavior vs. Behaviour” and “Realize vs. Realise”…

    • Bobby

      “I suppose everyone has extra time on their hands” says the guy who’s not only here reading but replying too.

      BTW it’s not just the UK and commonwealth, it’s everywhere that speaks English as a first, second or third language, be it China or Africa etc, basically everywhere but Amercant, I have a different word for America but that’s ok apparently, as long as I tell everyone it’s not America but it’s really Americant it must be right after all it’s a free for all to change all the words just to be special.

      And yes there will be debate about the other words you forgot how to spell, you haven’t even got the hang of how to say a lot of them.

      If you find it too difficult to learn English then fair enough we understand but you can’t tell the English that their language is wrong and you’re right, having said that it’s to be expected from someone that thinks Math is right, have you started telling Mexicans how to speak Mexican yet, I guess you already told the Native Americans when you were filling them full of holes. :)

      • Drew

        In in Mexico people speak Spanish, not Mexican.

      • Zachary

        Those last two paragraghs really got on my nerves, not because you’re making fun of America, we kind of deserve it, but because of your failure to realise the fact that there is such a thing as a dialect.Mexicans don’t speak Spanish the same way the Spanish do, does that mean there speaking it wrong? Of course not, and your bigger idiot than you realise if you think so.Go read Dr.Alsop’s comment.

        • Neal

          Oh dear Zachary.
          Shame on you for the poor English grammar.

          The line…
          >>does that mean there speaking..
          Should be:
          >>does that mean they’re speaking..

          Furthermore…
          >>and your bigger idiot than you realise
          should be:
          >>and you’re a bigger idiot than you realise

          So, just to be clear, exactly who’s the idiot?

      • Zachary

        And rose’s too while your at it.

      • Adam

        “I guess you already told the Native Americans when you were filling them full of holes. :)”

        Yes. It was Americans doing this. Not British or Dutch or Portuguese or Spanish or French. Just Americans. After all, as soon as one steps onto the shores of America, one becomes an American. Just as the English had nothing to do with the marginalization of Australian Aborigines, it was those mean ol’ Australians. The Maori people weren’t persecuted by the Brits, what what, they were persecuted by New Zealanders. South Africa, the Zulu Kingdom, no problems with the Brits at all! Yep, as soon as a country divests itself from the Empire, the Empire gets to divest itself from any history involving itself and the land it colonized.

        America has a pretty horrible history when it comes to the treatment of her natives, but let’s not pretend like the British weren’t involved at all. That insults us all.

  • Expat

    It is almost always the case that what you were bought up with is correct and anything else is incorrect, to me maths is correct, simply because the word it is short for is mathematics, however, as long what hear makes sense, I do not have a problem, what I really have a problem with, (as mentioned above) is all the screwing around with the date, DD/MM/YY is far more logical and understandable, than any of the American variables, using MM/DD/YY has screwed things up on many occasions….

  • really?

    ““maths” on this side of the Atlantic strikes me as silly and vaguely pathetic.”

    This comment strikes me as more than just vaguely pathetic. Obviously and shamefully pathetic that you assume anyone who uses maths (the one you don’t use) is posturing, silly, or vaguely pathetic.

    Take a look in the mirror. What a disgusting judgement to cast based on absolutely no information at all. You’re a pathetic person.

  • Rose

    “If you find it too difficult to learn English then fair enough we understand but you can’t tell the English that their language is wrong and you’re right, having said that it’s to be expected from someone that thinks Math is right, have you started telling Mexicans how to speak Mexican yet, I guess you already told the Native Americans when you were filling them full of holes. :)” -Bobby

    “Americants” have every European power that colonized North America to thank for that legacy of European Hegemony. After all, Americans are descendents of the British colonies and only naturally carried forward many of the traditions which had been practiced for centuries. Before you go singling out Americans for the persecution of Native Americans you should stop and think about how many European states did the exact same thing long before the United States even existed.

    That being said, I think this entire argument between Math and Maths is ridiculous since by its nature it implies that cultural differences in language are recent developments. It also ignores the fact that the English language, like every language, is constantly evolving. Human nature tends to oppose change within a single generation, but within multiple generations change is embraced. I say math, you say maths. All that matters is that the concept is clear.

  • david

    either way .. both short for mathematics. debate closed

  • Randall

    Americans us “math” while the British/Commonwealth use “maths.” You should also be aware that Americans use the word “sports” while the UK uses “sport” for both singular and plural.

    • Gary

      No we don’t we have potted sports, a sports hall and i represented my school in 3 different sports. My favourite sport is Windsurfing.

  • richard shumway

    Is there anyone who abbreviates gymnastics to gyms? I never heard of “maths” before the internet age. The first few times I saw it I thought it was some juvenile attempt at humor. “Maths” is fine if you’re British, but Americans who say it are looked upon as posers.

  • Joseph

    I’m just going to lightly say “maybe the Germans should be flipping pissed off that we (brits, ‘mericans, aussies, cans, etc…) are all speaking German wrong, and even going so far as to use the wrong name”

    I fully expect in a number of generations time (if the internet doesn’t somehow halt the divergance of language) that today’s English will diverge (especially after Chinese becomes the World’s lingua franca) into many dialects producing something similar to what happened to Latin after the fall of Rome. That once vibrant and world-wide (Relavent world) language diverged astonishingly quickly into Spanish, French, Italian, Portugese, etc… and even strongly changed other languages. So I won’t get angry when anyone wishes to say “maths” instead of “math” if nobody gets angry at me for saying “yall” instead of “you(pl)” because that practice actually adds more complication into the grammar of English than is currently accepted (officially(not even officially, because English doesn’t have a legally supported center of Language Use or whatever like many other languages do, for example Spanish or French)). So what does the future hold for English if the Southern Americans are speaking with more complicated grammar (rather than simplifying?) and Brits are adding S’s onto Grammatically singular nouns and Western Americans are inventing new words from absolutely nothing? What will constitute “English” in another hundred years? Math and Maths will be the least of our problems. Oh and on the topic of the “Internet Age of English”, now we are gaining more words every day ranging from the seemingly mentally-challenged “lol” (spoken like lull or lawl) to the absolutely essential “google” (providing a clarification between “searching the room” and “searching the internet” the latter being most commonly referred to as “googling”) So all-in-all English will never be the same for more than one day between a handful of people so get used to it. Also, most of Britain now speaks a pronunciation variant of Enlgish that’s around been around since after the Colonies in America were begun; Colonists kept the older pronunciations so now most Americans speak with an older accent than the English (most generally, there are exceptions).

  • Connect4

    Can’t believe how ugly this got. You can’t teach Granny to suck eggs? Granny taught herself, with some help from the French, maybe?

    Shakespeare used CENTER, not centre.

    SO MANY WORDS Americans use are older, sometimes Elizabethan forms that Americans stuck with and Brits ditched.

    gotten – Americans didn’t invent this. Britons did away with it around the 17th/18th C.
    color – it had no U before it was given a U… applies to many.
    sled/sledge (UK) – it was a sled from a Dutch form of “slide” first.
    Aluminium – was originally called Aluminum by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy… until Brits wanted it to rhyme with Potassium, etc. And that gets tutted about the most!

    Tyre was the word for the dressing of a carriage wheel in England in the 13th C. English changed spelling to TIRE in 15th C (Americans kept that one)… and Brits went back to TYRE in 19th C.

    There are more.

    … Just some things to think about. Think of some more that bother you, and really look into the etymology behind them. It isn’t simple and reading these comments confirms the adage that a person is only as dumb as they are certain.

    • ecadre


      Can’t believe how ugly this got. You can’t teach Granny to suck eggs? Granny taught herself, with some help from the French, maybe?

      Shakespeare used CENTER, not centre.

      Even if that is true, using it to try to back up your point is, well, pointless. Shakespeare used plenty of “odd” spellings. He lived at a time when there was no standardisation of spelling, just look at the number of ways he spelt his own name. Cherry picking a single word proves nothing much.

      However, and I will refer to this again, the modern spelling “center” is derived from Noah Webster and his dictionary which he used to promote spelling reform. Before Webster Americans used “centre” as derived from the latin “centrum”.

      SO MANY WORDS Americans use are older, sometimes Elizabethan forms that Americans stuck with and Brits ditched.

      Some are, some aren’t. Depends upon the words you choose to reply upon/cherry pick for your argument.

      gotten – Amricans didn’t invent this. Britons did away with it around the 17th/18th C.

      “color – it had no U before it was given a U… applies to many.”

      Webster’s dictionary. Again. That’s where the American “specialisation” of many spellings became fixed. Before Webster Americans used to spell it “colour”.

      sled/sledge (UK) – it was a sled from a Dutch form of “slide” first.

      So what? Um, we (and in British) would say “sled” too.

      Aluminium – was originally called Aluminum by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy… until Brits wanted it to rhyme with Potassium, etc. And that gets tutted about the most!

      Sorry, that’s wrong. Davy first coined the word “Alumium”. He a few years later changed it to “Aluminum” which was objected to in the same year and generally changed to “Aluminium”.

      Check on the google word search for printed materials and you will see that until Webster’s dictionary the vast majority of American publications used “Aluminium”.

      Tyre was the word for the dressing of a carriage wheel in England in the 13th C. English changed spelling to TIRE in 15th C (Americans kept that one)… and Brits went back to TYRE in 19th C.

      It comes from the French and therefore was spelled as “tire”. The “tyre” speeling does not come from the 13th Century.

      Before spelling standardisation all sorts of things went on, but the British didn’t go back to “tyre” as it hadn’t existed before the mid 19th Century. So, it’s a new word. Woopy-doo for you. The British use a different word and that signifies, what?

      It signifies for me that this is a living language, and for you to come up with some silly argument that the people in the US use an older (do you mean purer, better and more correct version?) is rather silly when you look at the the massive influence of Webster and the relatively late standardisation of “national” spelling styles both sides of the Atlantic ocean (not to mention other places).

      There are more.

      … Just some things to think about. Think of some more that bother you, and really look into the etymology behind them. It isn’t simple and reading these comments confirms the adage that a person is only as dumb as they are certain.

      It means that you probably need to buy a copy of the OED :-P

    • ecadre


      Can’t believe how ugly this got. You can’t teach Granny to suck eggs? Granny taught herself, with some help from the French, maybe?

      Shakespeare used CENTER, not centre.

      Even if that is true, using it to try to back up your point is, well, pointless. Shakespeare used plenty of “odd” spellings. He lived at a time when there was no standardisation of spelling, just look at the number of ways he spelt his own name. Cherry picking a single word proves nothing much.

      However, and I will refer to this again, the modern spelling “center” is derived from Noah Webster and his dictionary which he used to promote spelling reform. Before Webster Americans used “centre” as derived from the latin “centrum”.

      SO MANY WORDS Americans use are older, sometimes Elizabethan forms that Americans stuck with and Brits ditched.

      Some are, some aren’t. Depends upon the words you choose to reply upon/cherry pick for your argument.

      gotten – Amricans didn’t invent this. Britons did away with it around the 17th/18th C.

      “color – it had no U before it was given a U… applies to many.”

      Webster’s dictionary. Again. That’s where the American “specialisation” of many spellings became fixed. Before Webster Americans used to spell it “colour”.

      sled/sledge (UK) – it was a sled from a Dutch form of “slide” first.

      So what? Um, we (and in British) would say “sled” too.

      Aluminium – was originally called Aluminum by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy… until Brits wanted it to rhyme with Potassium, etc. And that gets tutted about the most!

      Sorry, that’s wrong. Davy first coined the word “Alumium”. He a few years later changed it to “Aluminum” which was objected to in the same year and generally changed to “Aluminium”.

      Check on the google word search for printed materials and you will see that until Webster’s dictionary the vast majority of American publications used “Aluminium”.

      Tyre was the word for the dressing of a carriage wheel in England in the 13th C. English changed spelling to TIRE in 15th C (Americans kept that one)… and Brits went back to TYRE in 19th C.

      It comes from the French and therefore was spelled as “tire”. The “tyre” speeling does not come from the 13th Century.

      Before spelling standardisation all sorts of things went on, but the British didn’t go back to “tyre” as it hadn’t existed before the mid 19th Century. So, it’s a new word. Woopy-doo for you. The British use a different word and that signifies, what?

      It signifies for me that this is a living language, and for you to come up with some silly argument that the people in the US use an older (do you mean purer, better and more correct version?) is rather silly when you look at the the massive influence of Webster and the relatively late standardisation of “national” spelling styles both sides of the Atlantic ocean (not to mention other places).

      There are more.

      … Just some things to think about. Think of some more that bother you, and really look into the etymology behind them. It isn’t simple and reading these comments confirms the adage that a person is only as dumb as they are certain.

      It means that you probably need to buy a copy of the OED :-P

  • Brett

    People, please read the article. ‘Mathematics’ is a singular collective noun, just like ‘Linguistics.’ This is evidenced byt the fact that we say ‘Linguistics is a subject’ just as we say ‘Mathematics is a subject.’

    The point of the article is that it is technically incorrect to add an ‘s’ to an abbreviated collective noun. Of course this is not to say it is culturally incorrect to do so for those outside of the US. Believe me, as an American, I realize that my pronunciation of letter ‘z’ as zee is technically incorrect because the letter came from the Greek ‘Zeta’ (which is logically shortened to ‘zet’ or ‘zed’) but I am not about to say ‘zed’ because that was not how I was taught in grade school :)

  • Interesting discussion. Math vs Maths.
    To my ears, maths for mathematics seems like
    mathl for mathematical.

    Neither sound correct.

    Ralph

  • Jack-d

    Maths has 5 characters, Math has 4.
    The difference would be 1.

  • Del Boy

    Cohorts!!!!! Pleb! Word evolution through misunderstanding!

  • Philip Russell

    Maths is the abreviation used in most if not all English speaking countries except USA and Canada, not just GB (or UK). Another is your use of “gotten” instead of “got”. Outside North America this is very irritating so unless you’re deliberately trying to be annoying you shouldn’t be trying to justify your choice to be different because it comes across as arrogance. PS it’s a shame that Canadians can’t resist becoming “Amercanised”.

  • calum

    It’s MATH’S with an “S”
    Bloody Americans!!!
    And while were at it, it’s HERB not “ERB”
    And Jag-U-ar not “Jag-waar”
    No wonder the USA is the laughingstock of the world.

  • Furley

    The word is mathematics and neither math nor maths can claim to be correct . The problem is that the word is mathematics plural and if you say math then it has to be excepted that mathematics is the word you mean . Mathematic is not a word so if you want to use math in a singular sense then math needs to become a word in its own right .

  • Hannah

    This whole article seems pretty pointless to me seeing as it’s clarified pretty early on that maths is grammatically correct due to mathematics being a plural noun… This just comes across like an American trying to claim that Americans understand English better than the English… to quote the article itself “pathetic”

  • Kieren

    I cross my sevens … not because of low self-esteem, but because it helps distinguish them from a ’1′ … … Perhaps stick to grammar, as opposed to amateur psychology … ?! ;P

  • Albert

    Wow I did not realize how much the US gets hated on. (I am an American by the way) I guess we deserve it most of the time but please I guarantee you hate us more than we hate you. But I mean I really like the way the Brits say “Maths” It sounds cool to me anyway. I do however think Math is correct. Mathematics means the study of X. (or at least that is what it meant when translated from the Greek word Mathematica) While yes “a” is plural in Greek, the translators made it so that its the study of X instead of everything to do with X. So one might see where the confusion starts. We changed and originally plural word into a singular word. Also people say that the since it was plural then we should keep the “s” at the end, but what this sentence “Maths is fun.” How can we have an “s” at the and of Math when the word “is” is present. the word “is” has singular value and the word “are” is meant to be plural. Then again its all subjective based on culture and all that good jazz.

  • Aussie Nick

    I loved reading all of this – but what a waste of time and internet bandwidth. Now here is something far more important – the spelling of metric distance by the Americans – “meter”? What the…!! It’s “metre” mate! “Metre” is for distance (example: 100 metres) and “Meter” for a measuring instrument (example: a water/electricty meter).

    Here in Australia it’s “maths” and “z” is pronounced as “zed” except for about 20-25% of people under 30 who do say “math” and (sometimes)”zee”. That reflects the influence of American culture, “Seasame Street” and the Internet (which in English is still very American).

  • john keyes

    I enjoy a good debate about word usage. It would be a lot more pleasant however if both sides were equally adept.

    First of all, the idea that “mathematics” is a single field of study and therefore not a plural noun is absurd. “Mathematics” is beyond doubt plural. However, when it is collectively referred to as “(the study of) mathematics”, the study is singular regardless of the plurality of the subject.

    In other words: yes, mathematics as a field is singular, but the term “mathematics” itself is positively plural. Thus “maths” is a sensible abbreviation.

    As for the early tendency of Americans (led by Noah Webster) to “standardise” the English language, I can only suggest that this grew out of animosity towards Britain as a consequence of political differences. To justify changes of “color” for “colour” etc. out of spite for England is not what I would call proper cultural development. It is more like propaganda.

  • Bethany

    LOL. This sort of thing is what killed Latin. People insisting on keeping it pure not realizing that it was morphing into French, Spanish and Italian. So only the learned (clergy) ended up speaking it and it is useless now save for word roots and historians.

  • Brits, Cool It!

    I am a Brit living in the US. Brits are more guilty here of flaming. Americans are showing more tolerance. As someone else commented, Brit’s say “maths” and Americans say “math”. BTW, Brits would place the full stop (period) inside the quotation marks. That is all there is to it.

    Yes, the Brits have brought about changes to punctuation, or modernized/modernised it if you will. Colons, commas, (Oxford comma applies here in the UK) and full stops are being used less. It is quite possible, Americans have preserved many English usages, that have since fallen out of use in the UK.

    There are common usages such as “I could care less”, meaning “I couldn’t care less”, which is incorrect in both countries.

    Referring to old, literary documents as a reference for ‘correct’ (single quotes used for emphasis in the UK, not used so much in the US) is flawed, since there was even less universal agreement, or formal language rules in former times. Sometimes, poor English in the US is as a result of the many ethnicities grappling with it as a second language. Sometimes, American revisions, to say spelling, make more sense. For example. dropping the letter “u” from words like favor (British use favour) is logical since it is more phonetic. British English probably retains more French influences than American English, which is understandable since they are our neighbors (neighbours in the UK).

    I personally find that Americans are much more pragmatic in their use of language, whereas the British are more expressive. That may be because more German blood flows through their veins than British. Just a theory I have.

    There is not doubt that English is a very rich language, producing literary giants (on) both sides of the pond. We should rejoice in that, and embrace our differences while preserving our common heritage from decay by the more detrimental effects of poor education and ‘bastardizations’ (substitute “s” for “z”) from social media and advertising (no “z” here) trends.

  • Bitter "division"!

    I have lived and studied east and west of the “pond”, and north and south of the globe. I have driven aluminum cars and crossed my sevens! I am an international mongrel. I have always loved “me sums” and wasn’t too shabby at “AP Calc”. But what truly annoys me about this dear subject is not the spelling of its abbreviated name, but the terrible mess the Anglophone world has made out of long division!! I now have to watch my little one learn this terrible and illogical method in her school, and it just feels me with angst! Who thought up this mess?! Can anyone find me the history of the method? I have searched it on the web with no joy! Why, oh why would they create a method that is so backwards!? In the Western World, we write from left to right, top to bottom. In a question like 127÷4, why start your calculation with a 4, then put some half rectangle with a 127 inside, and then, oh wait, now you have to start again, because the answer is going on top of this box and you have no space left!! As kids would say these days: WTF?!?! Have a look at the wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_division), and see how much more elegant the long division method is in places like France and Brazil, than in UK and USA. My daughter says it’s the “bus method”! I wish the inventors of this mess would sling their hook, get on their divisional bus, and ride into the sunset!

  • ANDREW BOSTOCK-LAWTON

    Please remembrer, you may be American, but you speak English… Please stop basterdising OUR language.

  • American Hick

    To us Americans, “British” is a synonym for eccentric.
    So how do you guys pronounce the name of the Texas-based rock band ZZ Top? We would giggle if you said “Zed Zed Top”.

  • charlie

    ZeeZeeTop cause it’s their name. My only problem, after smiling at all the intense debate above, is the British media adopting Americanisms more and more. It’s creepy.

  • John of Yorkshire

    Hello from God’s own Country.
    I have read though these post(ing)s with so much interest.

    Yes, I have seen honor instead of honour in letters written by people who lived in these parts during the 18th and 19th Centuries, so I have stopped being scathing of English spellings used by Americans. Early British railway builders and owners used the words railroad, waggonway or tramroad with no distinction.

    As many of the earlier contributors have said, spelling became standardised very late in the history of the language. Perhaps the problem, as someone alluded to, was that Webster compiled his dictionary at a time when the old and new worlds were not exactly on speaking terms, or at least, intercontinental communication was a very tedious process. It would have been almost impossible for him to keep up with changes taking place in the rest of the English speaking countries.

    My only grouse is over the lazy use of words, or inventing new ones because the speaker or writer cannot be bothered to use the correct one. An example which appeared in an internal memo (memorandum) last week, was “sortation” This was a native UK speaker. We think she meant “sorting of” mail.

    Me? I will envisage not envisaging; travelling by tram not streetcar, fly in an aeroplane not airplane and drive my motor-car to the railway station.
    Vive la difference, as we say in Yorkshire at the start of the Tour de France

  • Andrew

    Mathematics Vs Statistics

    I bet none of you refer to statistics as ‘stat’?

  • Kev

    Maths or Math? I’m not to fussed about this but it’s the way Americans try to make past tenses fit similar looking words. Drive = Drove but that doesn’t automatically make Dive = Dove (Dived). Speed = Sped, Bleed = Bled but that doesn’t mean Plead = Pled (Pleaded) and where the heck does Burglarised come from instead
    of Burgled. The phrase that has crept into UK English that I despise is “From the getgo” and saying zee instead of zed.

  • Kev

    I watch a lot of US TV shows and one word that keeps cropping up is “Route” but I estimate that the last 20 times I’ve heard it approximately 10 times it been pronounced Root and 10 times Rowt. Why is this? In England we always say it “Root”.

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