Monday, November 06, 2006

Monday Rant: Square

It's a common verbal quirk around here that people will misuse the mathematical concept of area.

For example, when describing the floor area of a laboratory or office, people often say something like "It has 15 meters squared of floor space". This is fucking stupid. Fifteen square meters and 15 x 15 meters are completely different. 15 x 15 = 225 which is distinctly not equal to 15.

The only time this kind of idiocy is vaguely tolerable is in the special case of one. 1 x 1 = 1.

Students, instructors, professors, TAs, graduate students - all people who would normally be considered "well" or "very highly" educated, pull this shit all the damn time. "It's 10 cm square" "Draw a 5 cm square" "Fourteen cm cubed". The examples are endless in their abundance and moronitude.

The correct way to express the trivially easy concept of square area is by rearranging the position of the word "square" or its derivative, thusly:

"My desk is about two square meters"


"I drew a figure that's about 200 square centimeters".

or even

"It's a square about three meters on a side"

This is not at all difficult, yet when I point out the distinction, people either (rarely) get mad, or they respond with blank stares and protestations that there is no difference. Learn to speak about reality, in more than one dimension.

Here's something much more polite from a bunch of math geeks who frickin' get it.

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