The Math Forum

Ask Dr. Math - Questions and Answers from our Archives
Associated Topics || Dr. Math Home || Search Dr. Math

History of Abscissa

Date: 03/26/2001 at 20:39:24
From: Eric Fogelfis
Subject: Coordinate


I would like to know the word abscissa comes from.

Thank you very much.

Date: 03/27/2001 at 14:37:04
From: Doctor Schwa
Subject: Re: Coordinate

Hi Eric,

I found a related question and answer in the Dr. Math archives by 
searching for "abscissa":

   Terms of the Cartesian Coordinates   

You can do that search yourself with our searcher at:   

The link above (to "carpenter") has a nice paragraph in it about the 
origins of "abscissa."

I also looked in the Oxford English Dictionary, and found that 
"absciss" means "a line or distance cut off" (or in general, a piece 
that's cut off).

The idea, then, was that to find the coordinates of a point, you would 
start at the point (x,y) and draw a perpendicular to one of the axes. 
The length of that perpendicular was called the "ordinate," and the 
length of the piece of axis cut off was called the "absciss" or 
"abscissa" or "abscisse."

In general, though, I don't see those words being used much these 
days, except in first-year high school algebra books. People just say 
"x-coordinate" or "first coordinate"...

I hope that helps.

- Doctor Schwa, The Math Forum   
Associated Topics:
High School Coordinate Plane Geometry
High School Definitions
High School Geometry
Middle School Definitions
Middle School Geometry

Search the Dr. Math Library:

Find items containing (put spaces between keywords):
Click only once for faster results:

[ Choose "whole words" when searching for a word like age.]

all keywords, in any order at least one, that exact phrase
parts of words whole words

Submit your own question to Dr. Math

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

Math Forum Home || Math Library || Quick Reference || Math Forum Search

Ask Dr. MathTM
© 1994- The Math Forum at NCTM. All rights reserved.