The History of Mathematics

Other Cultures and Early Mathematics

What are some familiar Arabic terms used in mathematics?

There are numerous Arabic terms we use today in our studies of mathematics. One of the most familiar is the term “algebra,” which came from the title of the book Al jabr w’al muqabalah by Persian mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khuwarizmi (783-c. 850; also seen as al-Khowarizmi and al-Khwarizmi); he was a scholar who described the rules needed to do mathematical calculations in the Hindu-Arabic numeration system. The book, whose title is roughly translated as Transposition and Reduction, explains all about the basics of algebra, including methods for solving all equations of the first and second degree with positive roots. (For more information, see the chapter on “Algebra.”)

Another Arabic derivation is “algorithm” from the Latinized version of Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khuwarizmi’s own name. Over time, his named evolved from al-Khuwarizmi to Alchoarismi, then Algorismi, Algorismus, Algorisme, and finally Algorithm.


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