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Word of the Week--"algebra"
Definition--the branch of mathematics that uses letters and symbols to represent variable quantities and numbers, and are related by various operations.

Discussion--if you are not mathematically inclined, algebra can leave you trembling. If you already understand it, it's easy; if you don't, it's hard to learn. You can think of algebra as the process of solving a puzzle. For example, if someone tells you the sum of 4 days that form a square on a calendar, you can tell that friend what the four days are. How? Using algebra as described below:

Suppose that your friend tells you the sum is 56. You call then quickly say the days were - 10, 11, 17, and 18. You solve the puzzle by subtracting 16 and dividing by 4. The algebra to reach this conclusion is as follows, call the first number x. Then you know that the next number would be x+ 1 and the next number would be x+ 7 and the next number would be x + 8. So:

x + x + 1 + x + 7 + x + 8 = 56

Simplify our equation by adding like terms:

4x + 16 = 56

Then subtract 16 from both sides:

4x = 40

Divide both sides by 4:

x = 10

Subtract 16 and divide by 4. That's exactly how you solve the puzzle. When your friend tells you the sum, you subtract 16 then divide by 4. This gives you the first number x. (Then add 1 and 7 and 8 for the other numbers).

Etymology--In English the term algebra means the science of equations. It comes from the title of Arab mathematician Al-Khwarizmi's treatises. He was the first to establish rules for adding subtracting, multiplying, and dviding with the new Arabic numbers around A.D. 825.

The languages below all show the same early Greek roots.

Foreign Translations
 German: Algebra (f) Dutch: algebra (de) French: algèbre (f) Spanish: álgebra

Jane Ellis  Previous Words of the Week

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