When to Call an Equation an Equation

An IBM advertisement in the March 2011 Atlantic starts “A computer has no problem solving the following equation, in a few hundredths of a second:” Then this hand-scrawled expression:

This is not an equation and therefore cannot be “solved.”  It is a mathematical expression and may be evaluated or simplified if desired.  If the IBM ad agency copy editor had turned in this work to me, he or she would have found the abbreviated notation for wrong word and a minus one on their paper.  Precision in language is as important in mathematics as in any other field probably more important.  In my developmental classes I particularly emphasize the correct use of the words like equation, expression, solve, and simplify.  So “When to Call an Equation an Equation”?  When it really is an equation.  At the very least there needs to be an equal sign.

Note:  “A few hundredths of a second” sounds like an awful long time to do that calculation.  Are IBM’s computers that slow?


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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