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History of Radicals

Date: 2/6/96 at 16:50:14
From: Anonymous
Subject: Why is it called a square root?

Why do we call it square root when the symbol is called radical?
I know that we have square roots and cube roots etc. 
Hmm, I guess I do understand the square part.  Now I realize that I don't 
understand the root part.  Is it just its looks?

Can you help?

Thanks a googolplex.

Date: 5/5/96 at 2:12:3
From: Doctor Jodi
Subject: Re: Why is it called a square root?

Hi Evan!  Gee, I think that a googolplex is an awful lot!

Anyway, the use of "root" comes from the mathematician Viete, who wrote 
about powers, calling them roots, squares, and cubes, 
based on the analogous geometrical objects.  (Did you know that 
for a long, long time, mathematicians debated the meaning of 
powers greater than 3 because of the lack of such analogues?)

In general speech, root can also mean base, as in the bottom 
part of something, so I think that's why the term came into use.

Let us know if we can help again.  

-Doctor Jodi,  The Math Forum
Associated Topics:
Elementary Math History/Biography

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