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Why m...?

The resource for this week is quite unusual....but I suggest it will be one that many mathematics teachers and stduents will probably peruse.

What is perhaps THE most asked questuion in a beginning algebra class? One could argue that it is the following...

What does the m stand for in the linear equation y = mx + b?

Sound familiar? If you do a search on the Internet, you will discover a multitude of arguments and reasons being offered. But, are any of them definitive and/or satisfying?

Recently, I discovered perhaps the best resource for this question. It is a Powerpoint presentation given by Tina Hartley and Fred Rickey, at the 2011 Conference of the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics Conference (Americas Section). On the linked page, you want to follow their link to Slope Talk.


If not, you can always follow the lead of Howard Eves, a highly respected mathematics historian, who concluded: "We call the slope of a line “m” because the word “slope” begins with the letter m." [Mathematical Circles Revisited, 2003]

And while you are on this HPM-Americas page, why not browse through some of the other presentations as well? Or, check out what is available for their other conferences. Plus, now that you are excited about the history of mathematics, why not attend their 2014 Conference...scheduled for Friday afternoon through Sunday morning, April 11 to 13, 2014, at Illinois State University, in Normal, Illinois.