Lots of folk have commented at length on the divisions Brexit created between the younger and the older generations. Now I must inform you that there is another “B” word dividing opinion among the young’uns
and those, like me, of a Great Age. I give you - BODMAS!
If you are, shall we say, of senior years, you may well be saying: “Bodmas? Isn’t that a place
in Cornwall?” If you are of school age, you will know exactly what BODMAS is - and it’s a long way from Bodmin. Which is, of course, in Cornwall but we are talking maths here, not geography.
I never fancied myself as a mathematician. I had a difficult start to my Number Related Education when the Infant School decided to put me up a year on account of my reading ability, forcing me to leave behind the comfortable
world of Reception class with its plasticine and play kitchen. Unfortunately, in the class above Reception, while I could more or less hold my own on the bookish front, I was all at sea with arithmetic and remained so well into my teens. Of all the school
reports I have received over the years I spent in full time education, only one comment remains forever in my memory: “Gets rather flustered” my teacher has written in the space for a comment on mental arithmetic when I was eight years old. Never
was a truer word spoken.
I eventually overcame the difficulties presented by my false start and fared well in my O Levels but, despite learning the intricacies
of algebra and geometry, I never learnt to love the subject. Mr B, on the other hand, never took O Levels and quite possibly (though I may be doing him a grave disservice) still thinks trigonometry is a form of knitting - but he has a brilliantly developed
brain when it comes to mathematics of the Extremely Useful Variety. When he was but a young compositor, his fellow workers would line up every pay day to ask him to check if they had been paid the right amount of overtime, had the correct amount of tax deducted,
had not been somehow fiddled out of their just desserts. When as children Our Foursome begged us for calculators, like all their friends, he refused to buy them until they could convince him that they could correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide without
the aid of any instrument other than brain power.
What neither of us ever asked them was the rule of BODMAS. In fact we had never heard of it, despite the fact
that my best friend Google advises me that it has been around since the 1600s when it was referred to as the Order of Operations (of the mathematical, rather than the surgical kind - just in case you are getting mixed up.) Sometime after I left school and
before the present day, a person unknown decided to introduce a mnemonic to help primary school children remember the order of operations - Bracket, Order, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction - when solving a sum. It’s the bracket - or, rather,
the absence of it - that is causing the Generational Rift.
Take the sum 7+7x 3 - just a sum but on our joint family WhatsApp group, feelings ran high. All the
young’uns quoted BODMAS and gave the answer as 28 - all the oldies said this would only be true if the sum was written 7 + (7 x 3). Where’s the bracket when you need it?
I happen to like brackets (as regular readers of the Daily Blog will testify). I use them frequently whenever I feel a little additional explanation (or clarification) is needed. Writing a sum without the bracket is like omitting an apostrophe in my
(admittedly biased) opinion. I am prepared to accept the greater wisdom of the younger generation as far as the Order of Operations is concerned but I do feel like mounting a protest: Bring Back The Bracket.