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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

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etymology of words mathematica

Etymology of Words Mathematica

Professor Lusk

MGF 1107/Fall 2000

Submitted By:

Lyndale Kob


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!

weighty words
“Weighty Words”

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?

liquid measurements
Liquid Measurements

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.

(there’s more!)

more liquid measurements
More Liquid Measurements

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


old british beer measurements
Old British Beer Measurements

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.

measurements of length
Measurements of Length

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.

(there’s more!)

measurements of length ii
Measurements of Length II

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.

(There’s more?)

the whole nine yards
The Whole Nine Yards

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 .

the whole nine yards ii
The Whole Nine Yards II

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”?

Please continue…..

the whole nine yards iii
The Whole Nine Yards III

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 whole nine yards iv
The Whole Nine Yards IV

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…..

bonus words
Bonus Words

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”.

more bonus words
More Bonus Words

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”.


I hope you have enjoyed this presentation on the

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

bibliographical sites.

Book Mathematica by Professor Lusk,

GCCC, 2000