What is the origin of “digit”? – Present

1. Words and profanity

Scientists in each discipline tend to have a specialized vocabulary, which is very useful for communicating with each other, but which can be a barrier when it is necessary to talk about what they know with other people—who may be scientists. from the next section. In many cases, the communication of science approaches the work of a translator: we must use other words to reach more ears.

It was to talk about this tension between everyone’s words and the scientists’ words that Cristina Soares and I created one podcastproduced by MadreMedia, under the name scientific swearing. Cristina specializes in science communication. I tend to look at the stories of words. So in every episode, we talk about common words and profanity in every field — but, I admit, this idea is also an excuse to get the guests to reveal to the world what they’re researching.

We have already recorded eight conversations (one is already live — or better, on the network). We learned more about bat health, cultural differences in eggs, neurons generated by teeth to cure disease, talking trees, the sea and what lies there, among many other threads of conversation.

The first guest was Rogerio Martinsresearcher at Universidade Nova and presenter of the program this is math. You podcast it’s a way of talking, of exchanging ideas — that’s what we say there, in a free conversation, that maybe we wouldn’t say otherwise. For example, we asked Rogério why he ended up doing math. The answer may surprise you…

2.A word with a person in it

In the first episode, it was up to me to kick things off, looking at the origins of three everyday words (Cristina and Rogério were in charge of swear words). One of the words I chose was “digit”. This initial syllable gives away part of the story: the word was brought to us by the Arab, but it was derived from the name of the Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who lived between the 18th and 9th centuries.

Al-Khwarizmi was very important for the development of mathematics. one of his main contributions was popularizing the idea of ​​using the position of each digit (there it is…) to indicate its relative value. Thus, the digit 1 in the number 100 does not represent a unit, but a a hundred — this idea not only allows you to use a limited number of symbols to represent any number, but also helps you do math much easier than in other systems (like Latin numerals, for example).

Note: Al-Khwarizmi did not invent these ways of representing numbers. He helped publicize it. A useful idea must be invented, but if nothing is done to spread it, it disappears. This is also why talking to researchers is so important. It is in constant discussion that ideas are critiqued, refined, improved and implemented.

“Number” is just one of many words of Persian origin that we use in everyday life. Our language has material from many places — it shows that we are at a point in the ancient world where words from many peoples ended up. Knowing these stories is difficult, because words travel first by word of mouth and only later through writing. It’s hard to reconstruct the journeys — but what we see is interesting enough to make us take a chance.

3. Language and Mathematics

In these conversations over the millennia, words take on new meaning, leave their origins, disappear and reappear. Human language is extremely complex and difficult to understand. A word can have a slightly different meaning in each conversation. This is also fueled by art and human creativity (it was one of the themes of the episode).

Mathematics is, among many others, a way to tame this linguistic capacity of humans, to create rigorous definitions and conceptual tools that help us explore abstractions and recognize patterns that everyday language ignores, distracted as it is with pains and sufferings. our stories. . If human languages ​​are flexible, full of double, triple, quadruple meanings, blinking at every pause, concrete and dirty, mathematics is forced to use strict definitions and precise symbols that allow us to explore abstraction.

That said, it doesn’t seem to me that mathematics exists in contrast to human language. It is perhaps one of the most powerful manifestations of language itself — if we look closely, like literature, mathematics is a product of the human imagination and is expressed in symbols and words. Numbers are, first and foremost, words — and they are especially useful words for getting to know the world around us.

Here is the invitation: listen to its first episode scientific swearing. Our guest uses the Portuguese language with mastery to I have fun with mathematics.

Listen to the first episode at: Spotify | Apple Podcasts


Marco Neves | Teacher and translator. He writes about languages ​​and other travel on the page certain words. I’m learningsit down, with Cristina Soares, the program scientific swearing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *