Etymology of Words Mathematica. Professor Lusk MGF 1107/Fall 2000 Submitted By: Lyndale Kob. Introduction. Have you ever wondered where some of the mathematical terms that we use today originated? In this presentation, we will uncover the beginnings of
MGF 1107/Fall 2000
Have you ever wondered where some of the mathematical terms that we use today originated?
In this presentation, we will uncover the beginnings of
some common mathematical terms that we use today.
This study of word origins and word history is called
Let’s have some fun!
Carat and Karat
The words “carat” and “karat” are related and both come
from the Arabic word for “bean pod”. In this case, the
carob bean. What do beans have to do with measuring
precious metals and gems?
When jewels first began to be used as a means of exchange
and payment, people needed a way to measure their
relative weight and consequent value. These early traders
discovered that the smallest jewels weighed about the same
as one bean, so larger gems could be described as
“two beans” (two carats) and so on..
A “carat” today is standardized at 200 milligrams.
So what about “karat”?
The measure of the purity of gold is referred to as “karat”.
Like the “carat”, this measure is also based on the weight
of beans. In this case, however, it has come to equal a unit
of one-twenty-fourth pure gold.
Therefore, an 18-carat gold ring is 18 parts gold and 6 parts
other metal, making a total of twenty-four parts or twice
your monthly salary in easy monthly payments.
Isn’t this math fun?
The word “ounce” originated from the Italian word “onza”,
(abbreviation “oz”) which means, of course, “ounce”.
An ounce is equal to 2 tablespoons of liquid.
The word “pint” began as “pynte” in the mid 14th century.
It translates into “a vessel containing a pint of liquid”.
A pint is equal to 16 fluid ounces or 2 cups.
The quart is not surprising in origin. It is related to quarter,
or “one fourth”. It was borrowed from the French “quarte”,
a fourth part, and came from the Latin word, “quartus”, or
fourth. A quart is equal to 4 cups, 2 pints, or 32 fluid ounces.
Gallon was “galun” in the early 13th century. It was
borrowed from Old North French “galon”, which
corresponds to Old French “jalon”, meaning liquid
measure. These come from, of course, medieval Latin
“galleta” meaning “bucket”, and “galla” for “vessel”.
A bit of trivia for you:
The ten gallon hat does not have the
capacity of ten gallons! The gallon in
ten gallon hat comes from Spanish
“sombrero galon”, meaning braided
Now that we have passed the one gallon mark, you can
“refresh” yourself with some old British beer measurements.
1 firkin = 9 (beer) gallons
1 kilderkin = 18 gallons
2 kilderkin = 1 barrel or 36 gallons
1 1/2½ barrels = 1 hogshead or 54 gallons
1 1/3 hogshead = 1 puncheon or 72 gallons
1 ½ puncheons or 2 hogsheads = 1 butt or pipe or 108 gallons
2 butt or pipes = 1 tun or 216 gallons
That is a lot of beer!
Let’s move on to length measurements.
In medieval England, King Edward I took a giant step
forward in the world of measurements. He ordered a
permanent measuring stick made of iron to serve as a master
yardstick for the entire kingdom. This master yardstick was
called the “iron ulna”, after the bone of the forearm, and it
was standardized as the length of a yard, very close to the
length of our present day yard. King Edward realized that
constancy and permanence were the key to any standard.
He also decreed that the foot measure should be
one-third the length of the yard (the size of
his foot), and the inch to equal one thirty-sixth.
The word “inch” comes from the Latin word “uncia” or
“twelfth part”, whose source is “unus” or “one”.
The word “foot” was chosen, as mentioned previously, to
apply to the length of a man’s foot.
The word “yard” has several possible beginnings
The first relating to the “yardarms” of sailing ships.
Another nautical theory holds that the “yard” in
question is a “yard of ale”
– a long, thin drinking glass.
Now that we have covered the “whole nine yards”, you
might be wondering where that particular phrase came from.
Amazingly, there are several answers to this question.
One proposal is that when a large ship
had all her sails set, she would be running
“the whole nine yards”.
Another proposal concerns a “yard”, a tall glass of ale.
It seems that newly promoted sailors in the
British Navy were required by tradition to
make the rounds of a certain nine pubs
near the London docks, drinking a “yard
of ale at each .
Another theory has it that fighter planes in World War II
carried nine yards of ammunition belts in their machine guns.
Therefore, a flier who had seen heavy action on a mission
was said to have used “the whole nine yards”.
Or, in the case of our ground troops, the whole
nine yards referred to the ammunition carried
to supply the 50 caliber machine gun. A small
case carried three yards of ammunition, but a
full case carried “nine yards”. Obviously, a full
case was three times as heavy which made these
soldiers ask the inevitable question,
“Do we have to carry the “whole nine yards”?
The phrase “whole nine yards” could also have come from
the fact that rotating cement mixer trucks had a capacity
of nine “cubic” yards. When the mixer had completed it’s
job, it had discharged “the whole nine yards”.
Can you believe there’s
Check out the next slide!
The last theory we will discuss is concerning
prisons. It is said that this phrase originated
due to the fact that the construction of prisons
at one time included an outside wall and then,
nine yards outside of that, a fence. If a
prisoner attempting to escape made it over the wall, across
those nine yards, and over the fence, he was said to have
gone “the whole nine yards”.
Isn’t that interesting? Please continue on…..
We all know that a “paradigm” is a pattern or model.
But did you know that it also evolves from a Latin word?
(Are you beginning to see a pattern with mathematics and
Latin?) Paradigm comes from “paradigma”, meaning pattern
or example. It first entered the English language in 1483.
Why are pounds, when used as a weight
abbreviated as lbs?
The origin is in the Latin word “libra”,
which could mean both balance scales
and also a pound weight for which the full
expression was “libra pondo”, the second
word being the origin of our “pound”.
The word “compass” means “to go around or encircle”.
A “hypotenuse” is the side opposite the right
angle in a triangle. It is Greek in origin with
“hypo” meaning “under” and “teinen” meaning
“to stretch”. You might say it is “under tension”.
“Isomorphic” is also a Greek word with “iso”
meaning “the same”, and “morphe” meaning
“shape or form”. Isomorphic is defined as
“having equality of measure”.
etymology of mathematical terms. If you are interested
in exploring the origins of other mathematical terms, you
may seek them out using any of the below listed
Book Mathematica by Professor Lusk,