At the naming party of the Math Family

Math vocabulary and etymology links with Sanskrit

Sujatha R
6 min readJan 4, 2021

In math, revels the universe and the play of numbers and shapes. In modern times of AI, it verily throws a party of Algorithms, Deep learning, Bots to Self-driving cars figuring out the ways of the world.

How did the math vocabulary get their names? What was beyond the ‘Greek and Latin’? What do the algorithms of machine learning and phonetics have to tell about the naming ceremony?

An informal exploration into a few terms that possibly have connections with Sanskrit. About 45 of them.. I have skipped the intermediate Greek and Latin stages for the easy ones. Thanks to James Cooper who runs the etymology group on Facebook for correcting and providing the tables that I have included at the end. Some of it could just be an overfit.

Feel free to explore, comment, correct and add to this list.

As a quick fact check, I searched up if there were similar posts. Merriam Webster does list a few of them and covers up with the domain Introduction and Greek Latin connection. I am happy to have explored much more vocabulary. Algebra and Algorithm come from the Arabic route meaning ‘the’ and hence not in this post.

Sanskrit root sounds and prefixes in simple words — There are about 2000 root sounds and each of them has a distinct sense of articulation, air envelope, and a kind of internal emotion. The prefixes are like effects and filters that enhance the meaning. We will explore math terms using the reduction techniques of these root sounds and prefixes.

Why do Math words have an M? On limits, time, measurements & math, mile

The letter “M” was uttered ages ago as in the primordial “Aum” bringing the lips to a closure and its meaning is said to express “limitation” “time” and “measure”, “math” as in “maatra”, “nimitta”, “amit”

Mi” expressing “borders” is the root of “Mile” where Roman soldiers conquer territory and upon walking 1000 paces hammer into the ground a post indicating Roman territory.

Arithmetic, Logarithm, Algorithm, Hundred, Rational, Ratio, Relation

The words reason, reckon, relation, rational, ratio and the bigger words like arithemetic, logarithm, algorithm, Hundred are related to Sanskrit roots “radati” meaning “to deliberate”, “to consider”.

Another root sound that comes to my mind. The Sanskrit root “r” as in “rtu seasons” meaning “harmony” “right” “rhythym” has the Greek “arthmeo” meaning to be joined together as in arithemetic.

LOGarithm

Logarithm is an arithemetical operation. It is constructed with the Greek root logos/lego and the Greek noun arithmos that we have seen above.

From the Sanskrit root “Lag” meaning “bonding” as in “lagnam-marriage”, hindi words “lagna”, “alag” comes the Greek “lego” which means to “cluster” giving rise to “logic” “logarithm” “lexicon”.

Division, Minimum & Maximum

Division is from the Sanskrit “dvi” meaning splitting into “two”. Minimum is similar to the other math words starting from M having a sense of finiteness. Maximum is from “maha” like in “magnum opus”.

Calculus & Calendar

Calculus is an advanced branch of mathematics related to counting, rate and derivatives.

The Sanskrit “kal” has been defined as “to count” “to announce the time” and “kaala” meaning “time” “season” “division of time”

“Kal” becomes the Latin “calculus” meaning “pebble” so named as they were used to facilitate “counting”. Interestingly in south Indian languages too “kallu” is pebbles.

Interestingly, the calendar months September October November December have the Sanskrit numbers Sapta, Asta, Nava, Dasha 7 8 9 10 corresponding to the Indian calendar month.

Geometry, Trignometry & Sine, Division

Geometry involves with the measurements of shapes. Geometry derives from the Greek word “gaia” meaning “earth” and “metry” meaning “measure” from the Sanskrit “maatra”

Circle is the sanskrit “chakra”.

The polygons triangle, quadrilateral, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon and decagon resonate their names with the Sanskrit numerals trini, chatvaari, pancha, shasti, sapta, asta, nava and dasha. A few sound transformations are seen due to the Greek and Latin hops. Especially S->H in sashti=>hexa, sapta=>hepta, shata=>hundred/centi. Lakh from Lakshya, crore from koti..

The “gaia” “earth” as in “geometry”, “geography”, could perhaps be connected with the Sanskrit “jya” meaning “journey” and “motion” as in “bow string”. I noticed the etymology “jya maatra” as “geometry” in this beautiful calendar from Indic Knowledge Systems which kind of motivated me to write this long pending post. I am still not convinced on this one.

Trignometry & Sine

Trignometry deals with triangles and measurements.. trikona maatra

Interestingly Aryabhatta used to call Sine function as “jya” meaning “string of the bow” as the Sine function measured the vertical string ratio of the bow.. And the Arabs wrongly translated it to “jeeb” meaning pocket and it lands as sinusitis or sine for short. Cosine or “complimentary sine” is an English derivative.

https://www.impulsiveinfo.com/trigonometric-tables-of-sine-cosine-made-by-genius-aryabhata-using-concept-of-bow-arrow-chord/

Sanskrit Prefixes and “Positive & Negative, Parabola”

A few prefixes of Sanskrit seem to have influenced the construction of these words. How cool is that.. “Pra” of Sanskrit is the English “Pro” as seen in “positive” “progress” “promote” “proceed”. “Negative” is the Sanskrit “Na” meaning “not”. Parabola comes from “para” meaning “beyond” like in “paramount” “paramatma”.

Sanskrit Prefixes and “Super, Hyper, Sub, Absolute” series

“Upa” expresses “proximity” as in “above” “below” “towards” “near” “down” like in “Upanishads”. It also means “junior” “subsidiary” as seen in the “Upa Vedas” “Upa Puranas” “Upa Indra”.

In subtraction, “Sub” meaning inferior like in “sub way”, “sub inspector” again an expansion of Sanskrit prefix “Upa” meaning inferior in this context.

Sum” meaning “quantity” “amount” is from “Summit” meaning “highest” and this comes from “Super” which is from the Sanskrit “supara” meaning “beyond” like in “superlative” “superfluous” and Sanskrit “uper”. Hyperbola too derives from the “supara” meaning excess in this context.

Absolute is from the Sanskrit roots “apa” meaning “away” and “lu” meaning to “cut” as in “lupta ” as in the “absolute” being that which is separate from as in it is not relative.

In an insanely immaculate fashion, the framework of Sanskrit provides an algorithm of word generation using root sounds, their expansions and giving them a verb or noun landing and enhancing further with prefix filters. And further framework of compounding generating bigger words with multiple root words.

It is amazing to see its effects in world languages and in the scientific community. Hope to see more of the the revealing connections.

Few Snapshots illustrating the transformations through Greek and Latin

Arithmetic, Logarithm, Algorithm, Hundred, Rational, Ratio, Relation

SUBtraction, Sum, HyPERbola

--

--

Sujatha R

I write.. I weave.. I walk.. कवयामि.. वयामि.. यामि.. Musings on Music, Linguistics & Patterns