The poetic in mathematics
Cissoids, conchoids and epitrochoids; keratoid and ramphoid cusps; acnodes, spinodes and crunodes; Cayleyanns, Hessians and Steinerians.
I came across these wonderful words in a book called Unknown Quantity: A real and imaginary history of algebra by John Derbyshire. They are all old terms once used in algebraic geometry.
I have no idea what they all are, and of course it doesn’t matter from a mathematician’s point of view – they’ve waved farewell to the abstract world of algebra and been replaced with modern terms like
parabolas, ellipses, Cassini ovals, lemniscates, hyperbolas, cubic curves, affine space, cylindrical algebraic deomposition
I could go on.
The algebraists who coined these terms must have had an ear for the exotic.
I can picture one of them working away, late at night, in a study lit only by a single desk lamp. In a ‘eureka’ moment she discovers a new, strange algebraic creature, and spends the rest of the night thinking up an appropriate name for it,
It’s been a few decades since I took algebra and loved it back then, but these words go over my head at lightening speed! Though, they are lovely! 🙂
Thank you for visiting my blog and commenting. I agree words like this are rather hard to fix in the memory and understanding. I hope the people who coined them are somewhere where they know about our appreciation of their efforts.
Lots of lovely words…a far cry from my daughter’s maths workbook!
I suspect modern mathematicians are less imaginative when it comes to naming things. I hope your daughter enjoys her maths anyway. Thank you for your comment.
I always thought Mathematics was a foreign language and still forget how to think in numbers but what lovely words. Now, if they were fitted to images I might find I wasn’t so afraid, but perhaps it is just too late.
Thank you for your comment. I think the words must have been fitted to images at one time – boring geometric ones probably.
I have been told that one gets better at maths as one gets older. I’ve certainly become more interested, but whether that makes me better at it, I’m not sure.
My take on the history of Algebra:
Hi Hank, Thanks for the link. Your speculations made me smile.