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Etymology of 'Asymptote'

Date: 05/13/2002 at 16:03:18
From: Lindsey Dobson
Subject: Asymptote

Can you tell me the history of the name 'asymptote'? 


Date: 05/14/2002 at 13:36:38
From: Doctor Sarah
Subject: Re: Asymptote

Hi Lindsey - thanks for writing to Dr. Math.

From the book _The Words of Mathematics, An Etymological Dictionary of 
Mathematical Terms Used in English_ (Mathematical Association of 
America), by Steven Schwartzman:

    asymptote (noun), asymptotic (adjective), 
    asymptotically (adverb): 
 
    from three Greek words. The particle an-, shortened 
    to a- before a consonant, means "not." The native 
    English cognate is un-, as seen in unhappy and unloved. 
    The Greek preposition sun or sum "together with" is 
    from the Indo-European root ksum "with." The Greek 
    verb piptein means "to fall." The IndoEuropean root 
    pet- "to rush or fly forward" (and hence to fall) can 
    be seen in Latin-derived impetuous, Greek-derived 
    helicopter, and native English feather. An asymptote 
    is a curve - most often a straight line - that another 
    curve "doesn't fall together with." In other words, 
    the second curve "runs alongside" its asymptote, 
    getting closer to it but never hitting it...

- Doctor Sarah, The Math Forum
  http://mathforum.org/dr.math/ 
Associated Topics:
High School Definitions
High School History/Biography

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