Saturday, April 27, 2013

X ix for X

X is one of the most useless letters in the alphabet.  Along with C and Q, and possibly Z, it could quite easily be eliminated without being terribly missed.  While C would be missed in words like “achoo”, why not just use K?  Akhoo!  (Your left brain is rejecting this!)

X is a decorative letter, making for interesting looking written words.  But as far as pronunciation…  well, there are alternatives. 

Looking for a topic for this Challenge post, I did come across some X words.  Mostly scientific in nature and, on this sunny Saturday morning, not really all that appealing.  So X, itself, is the topic. 

X is much better suited to being a symbol than a letter.  It’s decisive and succinct; easily identifiable.  It can indicate – quite clearly – that something is wrong.  It represents the number 10 in Roman numerals.  It also represents the unknown – as in algebra.  Alternately, it can, as is my favourite use for it, “mark the spot.” So it does have its uses.  And it sounds cool to say:  eks. 

The multiplication sign (or times sign) is not called an X, though it does resemble one – exactly.  It’s called a multiplication sign or times sign.  Which I found rather disappointing as I was hoping that there was some cool name for it that I had been unaware of.  But no. 
I did discover that it was introduced in 1631 as the multiplication sign by William Oughtred and was chosen for this purpose for religious reasons to represent the cross.  I could find nothing to explain the rationale for this choice.  What does the cross have to do with multiplying? 

According to Wikipedia: “The letter “x” is sometimes used in place of the multiplication sign.  This is considered incorrect in mathematical writing.”   I’ll be mulling this one over all day, I think.  How on Earth would anyone know the difference?  Can you imagine:

“You failed your math test because you used the letter eks instead of multiplication signs.”

“No, I used multiplication signs!”

“They are clearly letter ekses.  You fail.”

God, I’d love to be a math teacher and use that on a student as a joke sometime!

Anyway, if you will X-cuse me, I’m not going to X-tract some brunch from the kitchen and think about the difference between x and x.  (As soon as I figure out which one is the multiplication sign.)

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