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Complex math concepts with simple explanations?

  1. Nov 6, 2013 #1
    I've read that the reason why X is the unknown is because of a rule in spanish. That is funny to me because we see math as this complex thing and some of its most mysterious concepts have a simple reason behind it.

    I was wondering if there were more concepts like this that had explanations that might be unrelated to math, like some rule in language.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I've never heard of that rule, which is not to say that there isn't such a rule. I remember saying that x, y, and z are the unknowns because somehow being at the end of the alphabet made them seem more mysterious.

    Coming at it from the other direction, there are a number of words that have arcane mathematical origins that have crept into the language, such as fortnight and quarantine. A fortnight has nothing to do with forts - it's a Britishism that means two weeks (short for fourteen nights). Quarantine comes from the Italian word quaranta, or forty, from the number of days that people suspected of having the plague were separated from healthy people. If they survived the forty days (the quarantine), they must not have had the illness.
  4. Nov 7, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Decimate comes from Latin decimare, to kill every tenth person.
  5. Nov 7, 2013 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Right, and it's a word that is more often misused than used in the original sense, such as when some weather person talks about a tornado "decimating" a town when the town has been completely flattened.
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