5 New (Mathy) Words from the OED
The OED is the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s largest dictionary of the English language (though not, however, the world’s largest dictionary — that distinction belongs to the Dutch dictionary Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.) The OED attempts to “present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records down to the present day.”
Forgive me if you already knew that. I just never assume that mathy folks know (or care) about the OED, just as I don’t assume that literary people are familiar with the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra.
The OED is revised four times a year. Over 2,400 entries were added during the most recent revision (December 1), and the following are new words that entered the dictionary during the past year:
- coordinate geometry – system in which points, lines, shapes, and surfaces are represented by algebraic expressions. This term was added as a “subordinate entry,” meaning that it appears under the main entry “coordinate.” Still, it’s surprising that it took four millennia to get the word into the OED (Descartes introduced the coordinate plane in Discourse on the Method of Reasoning Well and Seeking Truth in the Sciences in 1637).
- cyberslacking – using internet access at work for personal reasons while maintaining the appearance of working. For example, updating a math joke blog instead of revising the budget per your director’s request.
- ego-surfing – searching the web for instances of your own name. Or checking Amazon daily to determine the sales ranking of your book.
- Richard Snary – as Dick is a shortened form of Richard, this is a pun for “dictionary.” (Go ahead, say, “Dick Snary” out loud and listen to what it sounds like.) This is a 17th‑century slang term that has somehow hung around for several hundred years, not unlike the math pun, “Pie aren’t square, pie are round!”
- Rolle’s theorem – a theorem which says that a differentiable function with equal values at two points must have a point somewhere in between where the first derivative is zero. It’s good to see that calculus is getting some props.
- rope’s length – in knot theory, the minimal length of an ideally flexible rope needed to tie a given knot. What’s unclear is whether this is the intention for the entry in the OED. Knot theorists use ropelength, not rope’s length, to describe this concept, but a Google search fails to reveal any common use of “rope’s length.”
- techy – an informal way of designating technological sophistication. This is heartening — with techy now officially recognized, “mathy” can’t be far behind.
The following are entries that should be added but probably never will be:
- decagon – what a croupier says after being fired.
- dilemma – a lemma with two results.
- paradox – two wharves.
- protractor – in favor of farm machinery.
- tangent – a sun-burned gentleman.
- Calvin Culus, Albert Jabra, and Paulina Hedron – hey, if Richard Snary gets in for “dictionary,” then it’s only reasonable that we math folks get some stupid puns, too.