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Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Why do the British say maths and people in the US simply call it math?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25799 points ) July 2nd, 2012

As asked.

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25 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

because the full word is mathematics

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CWOTUS's avatar

I guess we should all be glad they don’t call it “the maths”.

I suspect it has to do with how many branches of mathematics there are. That, and the fact that the Brits like to add extra letters to their words, for colour and such. Sometimes they add whole extra syllables, such as with aluminium and jaguar (where that word is spelled / spelt the same on both sides of the Atlantic, but pronounced differently there).

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

The British expression acknowledges that there are many sub-disciplines in Mathematic*s*.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@CWOTUS It is only Americans who omit letters still used by all other users of the English letter. American dictionary editor Webster introduced these misspellings and omissions to create a distinctive American variant of the language. Distinctive does not meant improved. Mathematics is always a plural noun even where people fail to include the ‘s’.

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CWOTUS's avatar

You may call them misspellings, @Dr_Lawrence, but I call them corrections. (I haven’t called ‘nite’ a correction over ‘night’ yet, and such like, but I might. I just mite.)

SavoirFaire's avatar

It has to do with different conventions for abbreviation—conventions which arose haphazardly (in the typical manner of natural language evolution). Interestingly, the abbreviation “math” is older than the abbreviation “maths.” The former first appeared in 1847, whereas the latter did not turn up until 1911. The word “mathematics” originally referred to any discipline that included calculations as part of its practice. This is why the full word has an “s” at the end, but it is not—on its own—an explanation of why some people say “math” and others say “maths” (as both groups say “mathematics”).

@Dr_Lawrence Canadian English contains some of the spelling variants typically identified as American and some of the spelling variants typically identified as British. They also call association football by the name “soccer” and use “fanny” to mean “buttocks” (rather than “vulva”). The English language is not so easily divided into American versus everyone else.

Furthermore, the British have indeed added letters to existing words. “Aluminum” came before “aluminium” (though only by a matter of months), but the latter was suggested as a replacement for the former on aesthetic grounds. Usage was then inconsistent in both North America and Europe until the early 20th century when a combination of market forces and the American Chemical Society officially adopting “aluminum” made that spelling standard in North America. Meanwhile, it wasn’t until 1990 that IUPAC decided to give its blessing to “aluminium.”

And finally, “mathematics” is a collective noun, like “family” or “physics.” All of these are treated as singular for purposes of verb conjugation (“mathematics is fun,” “my family enjoys kayaking,” “my favorite thing to study is physics”), so insisting that these words are plural only carries so much force as an argument. None of this is meant to suggest that the British variants are incorrect and the American ones correct, but only that the reverse is no more true. These are differences of dialect, not clear errors like using a comma as terminal punctuation.

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Adagio's avatar

We call it maths in NZ too, I’ve always found it strange to hear it called math.

bolwerk's avatar

Is spelling the only thing British have left to be chauvinist about? Don’t British have slightly less wide girths? Maybe a better primary/secondary education system?

The “correct” (that is, socially sanctioned) way to spell is how everyone else around you spells.

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CWOTUS's avatar

I don’t suppose that y’all will let Mark Twain have the last word on this, but you should:

A Plan for the Improvement of English Spelling
by Mark Twain

For example, in Year 1 that useless letter “c” would be dropped to be replased either by “k” or “s”, and likewise “x” would no longer be part of the alphabet. The only kase in which “c” would be retained would be the “ch” formation, which will be dealt with later. Year 2 might reform “w” spelling, so that “which” and “one” would take the same konsonant, wile Year 3 might well abolish “y” replasing it with “i” and Iear 4 might fiks the “g/j” anomali wonse and for all. Jenerally, then, the improvement would kontinue iear bai iear with Iear 5 doing awai with useles double konsonants, and Iears 6–12 or so modifaing vowlz and the rimeining voist and unvoist konsonants. Bai Iear 15 or sou, it wud fainali bi posibl tu meik ius ov thi ridandant letez “c”, “y” and “x”—bai now jast a memori in the maindz ov ould doderez—tu riplais “ch”, “sh”, and “th” rispektivli. Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.

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Nullo's avatar

We could take a romantic angle where Americans are so busy making progress that one extra ‘s’ has to go, whereas the British, characterized here by elegance and precision and good taste want the ‘s’ there because it’s better.
Honestly, I have no idea.

For what it’s worth, Italian uses the singular form, giving us “la matematica.”

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mattbrowne's avatar

Most of the time Americans prefer shorter words, e.g. color instead of colour, counseling not counselling. Time is money.

rooeytoo's avatar

For the same reason aussies say “sport” and yanks say “sports.”

That shoots your theory out of the water @mattbrowne.

jca's avatar

@CWOTUS: Another example is the Brits pronunciation of “film” which they pronounce (or at least the Irish pronounce) “fill-um.”

Nullo's avatar

@mattbrowne Perhaps it’s not length as much as it is confusing embellishment? That extra ‘u’ doesn’t help anybody, while “sports” underscores the wide range between the shot-put and cheerleading.

bolwerk's avatar

Could the major difference between either of these (math/maths, sport/sports) be whether it is being conceptualized as a definite or indefinite quantity?

Nullo's avatar

@bolwerk British and American English both recognize “mathematics” as the correct full spelling, the only difference being in the short form.

The OED points out that “sport” originally referred in a general sense to recreational activity. Sport is amusement, and sports are things that one does for sport. And now ‘sport’ looks funny when I write it.

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