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Fajitas and Adding

November 9, 2011
Fajitas_just_add

It says ‘Just Add…’ and adding is maths right? That means I’m allowed to blog about this, surely.

I’m amused by the way this pack says just add… Chicken, fajitas, tomato sauce, peppers and an onion to make delicious fajitas. Just. That’s all you need to add. Just those five other things.

Anyway, more seriously, how much confusion is caused by ‘maths’ words being used in ordinary language? Add means something quite specific in maths and you’ve possibly heard students talking about ‘adding a zero on’ when you’re multiplying by 10*. That’s not adding.
Average and impossible are further words that seems to cause similar problems due to their casual use in everyday language.

What other words seem to be affected by this?
Do this occur in other subjects?

*we’ll gloss over the conceptual issues here for the sake of this post.

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3 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    I believe (and hope) that this an example of amusing marketing. Being such, it would appears to have been successful as it’s given you reason to comment on it and thus provide free advertising of their product. That said though, whether intentionally or not, you have not included the brand identity in your photo nor in your post. So one can only presume sales of all fajitas brands (and their associated items; chicken, peppers etc.) will increase, as opposed to just this particular manufacturer’s.While adding is indeed a maths related activity, this particular post is clearly more interested in the linguistic use of the word "add" rather than one of the particular mathematical actions it used to describe.Before I add my thoughts on that particular topic, I find it interesting that you mention fajitas as something required to add to fajitas in order to make fajitas. This leads on to you stating five additional things are required, when I would have thought it was just four additional items (in addition to the fajitas themselves)? Now, that’s a maths topic.Anyway, your linguistic point is quite interesting. One of my favourite examples of this sort of concept is the use of next/this when talking about making arrangements with regard to the days of the week.If I were to discuss with someone on a Monday, meeting on the following Friday, I could refer it correctly as both this Friday (as in, this coming Friday) or next Friday (as in the next Friday to come). However, some people would only agree that "this Friday" referred to the Friday of the same week, whereas they would think of "next Friday" as referring to the Friday of the week to come (as in next week’s Friday).It could of course be argued that this particular ambiguity rises from the shortening of the expression from "this Friday coming" or "next week’s Friday", but the point is, the word "next" has become ambiguous in this context, whereas the word "this" is not. Even though the expression "next Friday" technically can only refer to the next Friday to arrive, the fact that enough people would think of it as referring to the Friday of the following week makes it a case for an ambiguity best avoided.I would suggest that the similar thinking exists when using the word "add" when referring to adding a zero to the end of a number to effectively multiply it by 10. While this is not the mathematical definition of adding, it is still a valid use of the word "add". One could say it is a shortened version of "add a zero to the end".One of the greatest aspects of the language (especially the English language) is the multiple definitions words can have. For instance, do you know the word with the greatest number of definitions in the English language? It’s the word "set".However, without this ambiguity, we wouldn’t be able to make quite so many jokes. Jokes such as; "Two fish are in a tank. One turns to the other and says "Do you know how to drive this thing?". Without the two different uses for the word tank used in that joke, it wouldn’t work. Of course, some may argue that even with it’s still not funny, but that’s a matter of opinion. The fact still remains, it’s a joke that requires the ambiguity of the English language to exist.It must of course be remember that this sort of ambiguity, while being a great source of humour, can also be an equal source of confusion and misinterpretation. One place this particularly important is the sciences (which brings us neatly back to maths). When instructing someone to add a zero to a number, you need to be clear whether you mean "add the value zero to a number" (10 + 0 = 10) or "add the digit zero to the number" (10 with a 0 added = 100).One would assume in a maths class, that the use of the word add in that context would be with the intention of increasing the value of the original number by the value of the added number, but one should always be careful not to make assumptions, otherwise one might be waiting for a friend to arrive on Friday when the same friend isn’t planning to arrive until the Friday after.

  2. Anonymous permalink

    I’d argue whether the label should say "Just add" or "Just add to". I suspect it has to be there for legal reasons rather than comic relief!As for the "add a zero" – I don’t have a problem with that so long as it doesn’t get confused with "add zero", since there is one more zero than there was before. To avoid the confusion, you might encourage students to say "place a zero at the end" or "put a zero at the end"… to be honest, I don’t think most kids confuse 10 + 0 with 10*10 in term of their equated arithmetic values.

  3. Anonymous permalink

    The serving suggestion label is a legal requirement (which can just about be seen under the 35g in the bottom corner). It is a disclaimer used to protect the manufacturer from people being able to claim they expected additional items to be contained with in the packet (such as a the plate). I would have thought this would have protected them from any litigation rising from people not finding the chicken and additional items in the packet.However, you may well be right and the serving suggestion statement in this case may not be sufficient. I’d like to hope that the serving suggestion statement is sufficient though and that it really is an attempt (and in my opinion, a successful one) at humour.Additionally, the packet doesn’t actually say add fajitas to make fajitas, it says add tortillas to make fajitas. Which makes a lot more sense.

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