(This is only peripherally related to math education, but it seems to be slightly more on-topic here than in MSE; if people disagree, I will gladly remove it and post it there.)

I have recently started tutoring a college student who, I've noticed, uses a slightly nonstandard (?) way of speaking mathematics aloud. Given an expression like $$\frac{3\cdot n}{k}$$ she will say "3 onto $n$, over $k$". It's the use of the word "onto" that I am interested in here. To my (Michigan-raised) ears, it's an unusual way of speaking this mathematics; I would expect to hear "3 times $n$ over $k$".

This particular student is from the southern US state of Georgia, which leads me to suspect that this is a regionalism. So now I am wondering: where in the English-speaking world is this way of speaking taught?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I grew up in Georgia, and I've never heard that way of speaking, although I can imagine some particular teacher talking that way. $\endgroup$ – Dan Fox Mar 17 '18 at 10:30
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The number of comments and answers from people familiar with this terminology constitutes a pretty clear answer to the question. $\endgroup$ – Andreas Blass Mar 22 '18 at 0:12
  • $\begingroup$ @AndreasBlass It just deepens the mystery: where did this student pick up this way of speaking? $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 22 '18 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ Have you asked the student? $\endgroup$ – John Coleman Mar 23 '18 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnColeman I have. She seemed confused by my comment -- didn't realize she was saying it. Then a few minutes later she did it again and I said "There, you just did it again!" and she got a funny look on her face and said "Is that not normal?" That was when she told me she was from Georgia and I said it must be a regionalism. $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 27 '18 at 23:27

It's possible that she said, or meant to say, "into", which denoted multiplication in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps she was taught using rather antiquated terminology.

"The sign $\times$ is called the sign of multiplication, and $a \times b$ is read thus "$a$ into $b$." " Algebra for Beginners, I. Todhunter, 1872.

"Multiplication, $\times$, multiplied by, or into; $A \times B$, $A$ into $B$." , First Lessons on Geometry, Alpheus Crosby, 1847

  • $\begingroup$ I just met with her again today and she definitely says "onto", rather than "into". $\endgroup$ – mweiss Mar 27 '18 at 23:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.