Subject: quadratics

Name: Paula

Who is asking: Teacher
Level: Secondary

Often wondered this myself...

A student today asked me why a quadratic, with highest power of degree 2, was called a QUADratic. We're awaiting the answer with baited breath! :)

Hi Paula

The terminology bothers lots of people -- I often get it mixed up with QUARTIC, which is a fourth degree equation. The name quadratic goes back to the time (before Descartes liberated algebra) when an algebraic expression referred to a geometric object: a second degree expression stood for an area. (Hence the terminology "square" for the second power: x2 is the number of unit squares in an x by x square). One of the problems in classical mathematics dating back to the time of Pythagoras is to find the area of a square that would exactly equal that of some figure bounded by a curve, such as a circle. This is sometimes called "effecting a quadrature" from the Latin word quadratura - the act of making square or quadratum - square. A third degree equation is similarly called a CUBIC (because of its relationship to the volume of a cube), and a fourth degree equation was looked upon with suspicion.

Chris and Walter
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