The CLPD head administrator Cathy told me a story the other day about an experience she had on the train: She was sitting opposite a pair of students, and one was helping the other prepare for a test. The first student was reading out words from a stack of cards and the second was trying to correctly say what they mean. After listening to this for a while, Cathy leaned over and asked what it was they were studying. The students said “pure maths”.
This completely surprised Cathy, because not one word they had said in all that time seemed to be related to maths in any way, and some of them she had never even heard before. Now Cathy has worked in many different areas in her life, many of which were in academic institutions, not to mention her own experience with maths in the past. So it was quite a shock to her that she had never heard these words associated with maths before. “It was like a completely different language,” she said.
My response to this statement was, “Quick Iggle Piggle! Catch Makka Pakka’s Og-Pog before it hits the Ninky Nonk!” And Cathy immediately knew what I was talking about because she, like me, has a young daughter, and therefore watches ABC2 rather a lot.
You, however, may not regognise or attach any meaning to any of the words in that sentence at all. The question is: do you feel like an idiot for not knowing what I’m talking about? Of course not — it’s just that you happen to have never seen the TV show “In the Night Garden”.
So why do so many people admit to feeling stupid for not knowing specialised maths words? If you happen never to have come across that particular area of maths in your life up till now, that doesn’t make you an idiot. It just means you’ve never come across that area of maths in your life up till now.
If you feel stupid when you hear someone using unfamiliar words, just think of a phrase from some other area if life or learning where you’re pretty sure the other person won’t know any of the words. (Such as, “Quick Iggle Piggle! Catch Makka Pakka’s Og-Pog before it hits the Ninky Nonk!”)