Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmetic

Hello and welcome to another week of unreliable information and questionable claims here at Factually Deficient! This week, I will answer a question forwarded to Factually Deficient by my very own father, on behalf of students everywhere who are, in this day and age, unfamiliar with the term:

What is arithmetic?

Many people will recognize the old school phrase of “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Reading and writing are still terms used today, but arithmetic now stymies many modern students in the English literacy / language arts classroom.

Naturally, this third area of study belongs to the same general discipline as the first two. It also follows logically that each item on the list progresses in complexity. Reading is the simplest; it requires only that the students decode and understand the text that is put before them. Next comes writing, the act of simple composition, placing one word in front of the next.

And then there is arithmetic – also a form of composition, one might say, but of a higher order; one of the most difficult forms of poetry to master. As the name suggests, the term has something to do with rhythm – specifically, as the astute etymologist will deduce from the prefix a-, the lack thereof.

Most types of poetry follow a specific metric rhythm, of so many beats per line, in a regular or alternating pattern. These are easy enough to master, once one learns to tell apart the trochees from the iambs and to arrange one’s words accordingly. But to compose an arithmetic poem requires a delicate touch, to achieve a special sort of dissonance.

In arithmetic, the writer first selects a typical poetic form. But instead of adhering to the metric scheme of that form, in order to introduce the arithmetic element to the poem, the poet breaks deliberately from the scheme, in a different way each line – adding beats, coming short a beat, straining trochees to fit into iambic slots – in order to curate a chaotic cacophany of words and rhyme.

The result is universally artistic, complex, and excruciatingly painful to read or to hear. Such is arithmetic.


Disclaimer: the above post contains inaccuracies. Compose arithmetic at your own risk.


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