Cultural differences 6

TEACHER (writing the fraction ⅓ on the white board): What is this?

STUDENT: A third.

TEACHER (writing the fraction ½ on the white board): And what is this?

STUDENT: A second.

Not a joke, but a real-life response I got from some students.

Just to be clear: A second is a unit of time, and sixty of these things make one minute. But in the case of fractions, it is a half.

Although with ordinal numbers we count by saying first, second, third, fourth, etc., with fractions we say the following: ¼ = a quarter, ½ = a half, ¾ = three quarters, ⅓ = a third/one third, ⅔ = two thirds, ⅕ = a fifth/one fifth, ⅙= a sixth/one sixth, ⅚ = five sixths, ⅛ = an eighth/one eighth, ⅝ = five eighths, and so on, just as in ordinal numbers (fifth, sixth, seventh, etc). The half (½) and the quarters (¼, ¾) are the exceptions.

There is a little bit of a dispute as to what we call 1/21 (unfortunately my computer won’t write the number as 1 over a line which is over the 21), with some saying it would a/one twenty-first – or if more, for example, seven twenty-firsts (7/21), while others saying ‘one over twenty-one’ or ‘seven over twenty-one’. Mind you, I could see the point of the latter argument if you get something like 5/55: seriously, could you say five fifty-fifths without having to wipe away your saliva from the table?

So at this stage I’m not going to worry about it.

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