mathematics

Definition

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  • noun the study of the relationship between numbers, their manipulation and organisation, to prove facts and theories logically

Origin & History of “mathematics”

Etymologically, mathematics means ‘something learned’. Its ultimate source was the Greek verb manthánein ‘learn’, which came from the same Indo-European base (*men-, *mon-, *mn- ‘think’) as produced English memory and mind. Its stem form math- served as a basis of a noun máthēma ‘science’, whose derived adjective mathēmatikós passed via Latin mathēmaticus and Old French mathematique into English as mathematic, now superseded by the contemporary mathematical (16th c.). Mathematics probably comes from French les mathématiques, a rendering of the Latin plural noun mathēmatica. From earliest times the notion of ‘science’ was bound up with that of ‘numerical reasoning’, and when mathematics reached English it was still being used for various scientific disciplines that involved geometrical calculation, such as astronomy and physics, but gradually over the centuries it has been narrowed down to a cover term for the abstract numerical sciences such as arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.

The abbreviated form maths dates from the early 20th century, the preferred American form math from the late 19th century.

The original meaning of the word’s Greek ancestor is preserved in English polymath ‘person of wide learning’ (17th c.).
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