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Origin of the Word Pyramid


Date: 07/05/99 at 23:02:44
From: karen
Subject: A pyramid versus the pyramids: which came first?

I am wondering about a sort of chicken or the egg question. Were the 
pyramids (like those in Egypt) named after the geometric figure the 
pyramid or vice-versa?


Date: 07/06/99 at 08:26:09
From: Doctor Rick
Subject: Re: A pyramid versus the pyramids:  which came first?

Hi, Karen.

An old-fashioned paper Encyclopedia Brittanica is still good for 
something like this. I quote from the 1970 edition:

"The ancient Egyptian term for pyramid is _mer_. The English word 
pyramid comes from the Greek _pyramid_, plural _pyramides_, a word of 
doubtful etymology that was thought to have been derived from the 
ancient Egyptian _per-em-us_, a term used in a mathematical papyrus to 
denote the vertical height of a pyramid. A purely Greek word _pyramis_ 
means "wheaten cake," and a vague resemblance in shape may have 
prompted early Greeks to use it as a facetious designation of the 
celebrated Egyptian monuments."

So the origin of the term is not entirely clear (as is true of most 
such ancient words and concepts). Even so, it definitely appears that 
the Egyptian pyramids were the first to bear this name, and the 
geometric concept of a pyramid must have been named after these 
particular examples of a right square pyramid.

- Doctor Rick, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/   
    
Associated Topics:
Middle School Definitions
Middle School Geometry
Middle School Polyhedra

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