Lack of brackets in spoken language

From Why start at x, y, z

There are problems similar to those related to order of operations misunderstandings causes by the lack of brackets in language.

For example, if trying to describe \(3^{2x}\), you might say "three to the power of two times x". This could, however, also be interpreted as \(3^{2}x\). One common way to reduce the ambiguity is to pause and speed up, ie say "three to the power of [pause] two-times-x".

Another example are sentences "17 is a factor of 6 more than 15" and "7 is a factor of 6 more than 15". Both can be interpreted as correct under different readings: 17 is (a factor of 6) more than 15, 7 is a factor of (6 more than 15). The first of these could be disambiguated by saying "17 is 15 plus a factor of 6", but there is no obvious unambiguous candidate for the second.

Matthew Scroggs finds this a particular challenge when writing clues for the Chalkdust crossnumber.

The first episode of the All Squared podcast is about spoken mathematics.