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**Deveno** It's not a problem peculiar to algebra...for example many people (myself included) often misspell "friend" F-R-E-I-N-D, and there is this amusing lyric from "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)":

*Well he asked for a thirteen, but they drew a thirty-one...*

In other words, people mix up "symbol order" a LOT. It takes time to "wire in the connections" between "what stands for which". Of course, in algebra (or arithmetic, or in guidance systems for nuclear weapons) such mix-ups may have disastrous results.

Here is one thing you can do, to hopefully not be so intimidated by the x's and y's and other strange things:

Recall that 1,2,3,4.... themselves are just SYMBOLS, not really "the actual numbers themselves". The Romans had different symbols, so did the Babylonians, so do the Chinese. So you've already mastered "one level" of letting a squiggly line take the place of an IDEA in your head. Now we're just going to "level 2" of letting a DIFFERENT squiggly line (usually "x") stand for a different idea: a number whose address is unknown. This is like saying "Joe's house" instead of "1431 Bradford Street". It clearly wouldn't do to keep referring to "Joe's house" as "Alice's house", unless you are trying to confuse people.

So...x is x, and y is y. Give them personalities, keep them focused in your mind as DISTINCT entities. And be vigilant: things can "look the same", but not BE the same:

$x^2 + y$ looks a lot like $x + y^2$, but they are very different. The differences can be subtle, but try not to let the tricksey hobbitses fool you.