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Just for fun: I'm curious...

Having been involved with and enjoying this thread on our favourite books, I find it really interesting the variety of books we all seem to enjoy, but one thing I noticed has got me thinking, and I hope we can have some sensible responses to this:

I am absolutely rubbish with numbers, didn't do well at Maths at all at school and still struggle now, but I did pretty well in English throughout my academic career.  And I always thought/assumed that people who were good with numbers weren't so keen on words and vice versa.  By the looks of some of the reading that's been going on, and by the way some of your articulate youselves, my theory seems to have been shot out the window!

Can anyone shed any light on this?  Want to share your views?  Am I totally wrong, and therefore it's just (unlucky) co-incidence that I can't do basic math?

Keen to hear what you number types have to say about this :)


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08th Jun 2011 12:32

Numbers ... yeah!!

I have always loved numbers and never had any problem with exams which were computational or number based in any way, e.g. Maths, Physics, Accountancy and Tax papers.

However I always struggled (indeed hated) English papers and essay type questions. My exam marks reflected this but I always got there in the end, albeit with a few retakes.

Conversely I am good at writing letters, a number of people have said so. I don't know why, it makes no sense!!



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08th Jun 2011 12:33

Same here

I too was rubbish at Maths at school and much better at English, I went on to do English Literature A level and never dreamed i would go back to numbers later in my life.  I now work as a bookkeeper and have studied part of the ACCA (of which i received an award for the highest mark for the first 3 papers!).  Never thought i would enjoy working with numbers.  My daughter was the same at school and not knowing which career path to take so i advised accounting telling her how much i now enjoy working with numbers.  She tried ut and loves it too, taking her final AAT exam next week and commencing ACCA this year.  No Becky your not the only one!

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08th Jun 2011 12:39

I'm with you Dave

Although I never hated English I was put in awful AWFUL sets, with the remedial people (?) despite having read most of the final year sylabus years previous (along with LotR, Les Mis and a few other 'grown up' books).  I detest the disecting of books to find the hidden meaning, I think it ruins the book, I imagine that is why I was kept from the grades I felt I deserved.

However for all my apparent inability to be academically proficient at English I feel my vocabulary and letter writing skills are excellent (my spelling on the other hand...) and have been complimented on both often.

I did, however, excel at Maths, though I have the usual blindness to numbers I'm sure many of you share from working in a numerical business :)


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By SteveOH
08th Jun 2011 12:40

Becky, I think you're adding 2 and 2 and getting 5....

Which in your particular case you probably think is the correct answer :)

Seriously, I've not noticed any correlation between numbers and literature. I was great at Maths at school (and science subjects) but not too hot at English and arts subjects; I still passed the exams though. But I've always enjoyed reading and collecting books.

I think (and hope) that I am articulate enough but I do need help, for example, when composing copy for my advertising stuff. Paul Scholes is one of the most articulate responders in my view and I always enjoy reading his answers - but is he any good with numbers???

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Excellent responses so far - thanks!

Steve, I always add 2 to 2 and get 55!  Don't know how I do it.  But yes, perhaps I am missing the underlying point.  As I said, I was curious, and seized what I felt an ample opportunity and calibre of people to have this out with.

Thanks for taking your time on my folly.

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08th Jun 2011 12:50


I wasn't too hot on English Grammar, and was even worse at foreign languages, but I excelled at English Lit. and maths.

Off the subject (slightly) but a few years ago when I was planning to take on an apprentice I set a simple maths test and was gobsmacked by the no. of youngsters who couldn't divide, or multiply, by 10!

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By stevie
08th Jun 2011 12:51


 traceybbs, you say you are much better at English - look at your last sentence and see if you can spot the grammatical error(s)!


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By mwngiol
08th Jun 2011 12:56

@Duck dude

"I detest the disecting of books to find the hidden meaning, I think it ruins the book"

That reminds of a quote I once heard (no idea who from!). It's about comedy but I think applies just as well to books - "Comedy is like a frog. You can disect it but it dies in the process".

Regarding Becky's theory, I'm also an exception to it. My top subjects at school were Maths, English and Science (although much better at Biology than Chemistry, and absolutely awful at Physics!). Strangely I was rubbish at Welsh despite it being my first language. Perhaps because my out-of-school reading was exclusively English books, as Welsh ones were almost without exception totally dull. Don't know if that's still the case though!

And happy birthday Becky btw!

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08th Jun 2011 13:07

Good point Steve

I was just being lazy and didn't bother to read what I'd written before i submitted it.  Well spotted!

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By blok
08th Jun 2011 13:22


Slightly off topic -

I think we read to much into the concept of "ability".

If we are good at one thing over another it is mainly because we have practised it for longer periods. 

The fact that Becky is better at English is not just down to natural ability but more likely the fact that her mentality or her make up dictates that she enjoys it better and has therefore spent more hours stuying and practising it. 

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08th Jun 2011 13:34

Yep - it's a myth

It's one of those old wives' tales, usually propogated as an excuse when literature/arts people are just poor at maths.  What can happen is that being bad at maths is almost waved about as a badge of honour by those whose interests lie elsewhere and they 'decide' to underachieve.

However it's very easy to mistake maths with arithmetic.  Being good at sums is a talent, like languages or playing an instrument.  It can readily be polished but for some people the shape of numbers and their patterns just fall into place.  But once you trespass beyond the age of about 14, maths increasingly has less and less to do with numbers.  By 'A' level it gets pretty rare to see a number - it's all functions, calculus, matrices etc etc.  But for doing accounts, a knowledge of Laplace Transforms isn't that useful.

Being able to express oneself is also a talent, but in accountancy terms it's about empathy - about being able to understand how the other person sees things and therefore how to express a concept to them.  Far too many accountants have about as much empathy as a tree-frog and merely express things in the way that makes sense to them, but not their clients.   

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Maths is not my strong point ...

 although I (and my clients) would hope that I have at least acheived competence! I think accountancy (or at least the role of the sole-practitioner) is more about communication. The maths is pretty simple at this level but the wide range of clients continually presents challenges of how to get ideas and information across in a way that is understood by all. I write for a number of magazines (on a non-professional basis) and was runner up for a staff job at a national publication a few years back but I doubt it would have paid as well as accountancy!

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08th Jun 2011 13:39

Something in it

I suffer from something called Dyscalculia - it was never diagnosed at school and I only understood it in later in life.  Symptoms include:

Looking up a page number in the index of a book, and then transposing a number when searching for the page and ending up e.g. on page 244 instead of 242Transposing numbers on a number plate or bank accountInability to perform mental arithmeticInability to learn times tablesInability to check for correct changeDifficulty reading analogue clocksPoor name/face memory

You might think that is an appauling start for an accountant, but I seem to make up for it in all other aspects!

Anyway the point I wanted to make is that people with Dyscalculia are often exceptionally good at writing - a lot of journalists and authors suffer from the condition.  So there's some kind of link between weakness in numbers and strength in words.

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08th Jun 2011 13:44

Wordsmiths and numbersmiths

At school I was most definitely a numbersmith rather than a wordsmith.  Poor at English - I had no sympathy for the tribulations of 'The Ancient Mariner' - much worse still at languages - after two years' study I was barely able to write "O table I love you" in Latin; and it took 5 years for me to develop stumbling French, "Il fait beau, le soleil est bleu" (or maybe not).  But I was OK at Maths and science.  So accountancy beckoned!

In my 50s I find I am much more of a wordsmith than a numbersmith - writing long reports for lawyers and courts.

So, as a mere child of 30, do not give up hope Becky.  And HAPPY BIRTHDAY by the way!


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08th Jun 2011 14:24

You can be both!

Maths was my best subject at school but I'm also good at English and read voraciously from an early age. Now I write short stories (I've been published and have just won a week to a writers' summer school with one of them!). Some people are good with both numbers and words and some are good at one or the other and some are crap at both! It's part of life's rich tapestry - if we were all the same, how boring life would be.

Having said that, I did once work for a firm of lawyers and was frequently surprised by how bad they were with figures - sometimes very basic ones. But maybe it was just a coincidence!


[email protected]



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08th Jun 2011 17:13

Not all accountants are the same


I hated English as taught at school, boring old novels, poems by dead people, writing essays, yuck, though i was never without something to read, and still am today: between Mrs D, my two youngish adult children and myself our little home is coming down with books.

I also am intrigued with maths as a concept (math is American!) but was not really good at many aspects. Save for statistics and some pure maths elements i pretty much sucked at it for my A levels during which time i didn't pass a single exam for two years except for the actual A level itself where I scraped an E. This is to me one of my best marks ever considering what i expected.

Anyway my point is you don't need to be gifted at Maths to be an accountant, it is pretty much a type of language in any event, it's the "lingua franca" of the business world, In fact my degree is an arts degree in accountancy rather than a science. As a concept it makes sense.

All of the above contributors are communicators first and foremost so it makes sense that they appear to fall into both camps.

Come and join us, it's great.

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08th Jun 2011 18:37


Things like being musical, or the ability to draw and paint are recognised as "gifts" which you either have, or you dont. I suspect that numeracy and literacy are similar. Yes you can learn up to a point (although if you dont enjoy a subject you're unlikely to learn it), but brilliant mathematicians, or gifted novelists, in my opinion, are born, not made.

The trick is in developing a level of competence in all disciplines, and in recognising and nurturing the "gifts" you have.


I have in mind a school friends brother who was autistic.  In those days of course society simply gave up on such individuals, and he could not read or write or perform even the simplest calculations - but give him a penknife and a piece of wood and a photograph of any bird or animal, and he would carve wonderful accurate carvings.

I saw a piece on TV a few years ago about domeone with learning difficulties who could take one look at a cityscape, go home, and paint it perfectly right down to the right number of windows in every building, & the cars on the street at the time he saw it, just as if he'd taken a photograph. The interesting point was that he could do this several days or even weeks after he'd seen the scene.

Which, I guess, just proves these people are not stupid, not untalented, merely different.



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08th Jun 2011 18:54

It works the other way, too

I know some exceptionally intelligent people and they lack some normal everyday skills. Mostly, the ones I know seem to lack either common sense, or communication skills. Another one I know is so absent minded you would call him an idiot (but in an affectionate manner because he is a really nice person), but he is the archetype of an absent-minded professor.

Nature often has a way of trying to balance the score :)


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09th Jun 2011 08:38


I'm with you Becky!  Carbon copy.

But then musicians and mathematicians are said to be closely connected and that's not true for me either!

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09th Jun 2011 08:51


Have a read of "Alex's Adventures in Numberland" by Alex Bellos.

Thought it worth a plug since it was the book thread that started it all off!

With kind regards

Clint Westwood

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09th Jun 2011 09:40

Accountancy needs both

I think, generally speaking, accountancy requires some level of skill in both. That might explain why those visiting here are mostly accountants but can still express themselves articulately.

We have to write letters and reports to clients for whom the accounts and tax are almost exclusively a secondary consideration to what they do for a living. It is therefore vital that we write them in a way that they can understand. Word skills are needed to achieve that. The professional examinations give a push to develop word skills as many papers involve report and essay writing questions.

So I think it might be more of a case that long-term accountants will tend to have skills in both areas. This does not mean they are superior beings (though we are of course :-P ), just that their careers required them to have such skills. To see how common the match between numeracy and articulacy was in general, you'd need a more diverse group to work with than the members here.

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09th Jun 2011 12:02

If we are now recommending Maths books then try Professor Stewar

Try this - fascinating and you don't need a very mathematical brain to follow both the beauty of mathematics, nor the interseting puzzles that mathematicians set themselves and us.

Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities

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My thought is provoked

To a certain extent, with the exception of post A level maths, I think we are comparing chalk with carrots.  The way we accountants use maths is pretty shallow intellectually speaking; a bit like the toddler's toy where you fit different shapes into the holes (or not). Yes there is a certain amount of interpretation & judgment but it's analytical and either comes naturally or, like me, beaten into over decades.

A number is a pretty static thing, yes, you can contrast & compare it with others but I soon get bored as there's only so much meaning you can get from 42.  I pick this number because it will spark a few people to drift off but it's rare for that to happen.  Yes, I too can imagine the other one!

Words on the other hand will always wake up other worlds and the catalyst of course is emotion.  A simple phrase can make the hairs stand up on my arm with the bonus that it can do that either because I understand and analyse what's being said (eg Nelson M) or it just gets to me.  An example that goes both ways is Shakespeare, I have always been naff at reading it, because my analytical brain kicks in, but listening to Richard Burton or Kenneth Branagh "doing" it is a different kettle of carrots.

So that's the dilemma for me, why can I not allow the words to sink in using my eyes when I can using my ears?  Why do I get so much more from listening to a radio play than one on the TV?  It might be that we humans have only been communicating via the written word for the last 90 seconds of our hour on the planet whereas we've been listening for 60 minutes and so it's taking some of us time to put 2 eyes & 1 page together?

All a bit deep & meaningful but it is Friday.

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10th Jun 2011 10:01

Yes and no

Paul - although I understand what you are saying about the emotion of words and the pictures they can portray, etc,etc, I feel that numbers aren't as static as you make out.

As mentioned in my earlier post I love numbers and it may be sad to say that I get exited by them!! When preparing accounts you wouldn't believe how much fun I have with listing out the raw data (e.g. cash expenses from receipts or bank payments from the bank statements). If you are not naturally inclined to numbers then you just see digits but I see so much more and it makes what seems like the mundane, interesting.

I realise that some will think I'm strange to talk like that but I hope at least one person understands!!






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10th Jun 2011 10:11


No doubt you have heard the analysis that only 7% of communication involves the actual words being spoken.  55% communication of body language & eye contact, and 38% is vocal (pitch, speed, tone of voice, etc).  No wonder the written word doesn't come alive like the spoken word!

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The answer is... 42!

I have always pondered if there is any truth in this, especially after listening to the Director General of CERN talking about the importance of mathmeticians analysing the results of the experiments in Geneva!

Did you know, Paul, that the only living person who knows why '42' is Stephen Fry, and he is sworn to take it to his grave also.  Shame, eh? 

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Dave - I think I can see it, there is a degree of satisfaction in reccing the bank and I've just had a day playing with digits for a biz valuation that's been quite fulfilling(ish) but it's me and a computer. 

To be honest I'd prefer to ignore the numbers and words and enjoy just the 55% thisistibe talks about.

Becky, many think Pi is 3.142 but there's a lot more to it than that!

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10th Jun 2011 10:44

we need a conference site

What we need is somewhere to discuss this further - I recommend Hilbert's Grand Hotel here. Plenty of room for everyone!

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@ Mr D

That just blew my simple mind! :)

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Numbers and wrods

I was equally good at school at both maths and english - and in fact went on to do maths at university and then eventually accountancy (mainly because I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do and it seemed a good delaying tactic!)

I love playing around with numbers but always have a book to read wherever I go.

I really enjoy accountancy because it means dealing with numbers and people.

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By pawncob
10th Jun 2011 12:54

I wish it was true
It makes me cringe when I read what some of these "educated" accountants write. They may excel at figures but spelling and grammar are completely alien to some of them (And I'm not talking about simple typos like the mis-spelling above). I know that we rush to get our thoughts onto the keyboard, and we don't always bother to proof read the result, but if I had an accountant that wrote the way some of these contributors do, I'd seriously consider a change. Many of the old school will agree with me, and some of the younger ones will say "I leave that to the typist/secretary", but if you don't know that she's made a mistake it won't get corrected.

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10th Jun 2011 13:06


Don't you mean "I wish it were true"?



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Are you saying that the youngsters will be OK if a man types it for them?

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10th Jun 2011 14:21

@ Becky

Also somewhere to go when the moderating bit of your job gets difficult. Glad you liked it.

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10th Jun 2011 14:37


I tend not to bother much about my grammar, or spelling, when using this, or any other, forum. I'm pretty good at spelling but I admit my grammar isn't too hot.

On some forums, where it is in common use, I also use internet slang. Basically, we adapt according to our environment, and posting on here isn't really comparable to writing, or conversing with our clients/banks/HMRC, etc.

I do take more care when writing to clients/banks/HMRC, and maybe others do the same, but I will agree that a lot of 'todays' school leavers don't seem to have received much education on grammar, spelling, or maths.

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Grammar and spelling constantly evolve ...

 Bill Bryson (blow he should have been on my book list) has written some great books on the subject. Just read some books even from the 60's and you will see that the grammatical form is very different to that which we would deem correct today. Like the tide, you can never change it and I will guarantee that 'your' will officially become interchangeable with you're within a decade. The reason is that for 20 years such a distinction has not been emphasied in schools and soon those kids will be running things!

Pawncob - secretaries barely exist in corporate life anymore and where they do, they would give you a dirty look if you asked them to type something for you!

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10th Jun 2011 15:33

Good with both ... I think

I like to think I am OK with both figures and words, but I'll confirm that once my kids' novel has been published AND I've survived the next few years of accounting changes ... assuming I do survive, and assuming I do finish off my totally mad kids' novel.

My wife, though, is an ace novellist (out-earned me over several years, which is probably not that difficult! And her last novel got fantastic reviews in all the major newspapers), but she is totally crap with figures ... and wise enough to know she cannot add 2 plus 2 or any other number. And multiplication and division? Well, they are way up on the far side of the moon, as far as she's concerned.-- KH

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10th Jun 2011 15:36


Shouldn't that have been today's - not todays?

And shouldn't it have been '60s - not 60's?

I'm going to make myself really popular :-)

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By DBlood
10th Jun 2011 15:40

Pot & kettle


Shouldn't that have been today's - not todays

Posted by thisistibi on Fri, 10/06/2011 - 15:36


Should be .. should that not have been.  Shouldn't is idle abbreviation.


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10th Jun 2011 15:45

[removed by mod]

Thanks, just goes to show how rare perfect grammar is.  I know mine isn't perfect!  I blame poor schooling in the '80s.

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10th Jun 2011 15:49


Quite a few of us are rubbish at grammar :)

I am still pretty good at spelling though, and actually manage to type it correctly, too (on the odd occasion when my fingers are connected to my brain!).

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10th Jun 2011 23:43

Outside experience?

Possibly it depends what you do in your spare time. I occasionally write poetry and I write a monthly article for another website, so I get a lot of practice in good use of words.

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14th Jun 2011 11:00

The answer might lie in a Channel 4 game show on every weekday a
I think "Countdown" has shown over the 30 odd years it has been running that there are plenty of people who are good with both words and numbers.

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By pawncob
14th Jun 2011 15:12

Here I go
To watch "Countdown".

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By john20
05th Aug 2011 06:54


I agree with your thoughts. I also experienced that students who are good in Mathematics, week in English. It is all about a student's personal interest. Essay Writing

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