Subject: quadratics Name: Paula Who is asking: Teacher Level: Secondary Question: 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 Go to Math Central To return to the previous page use your browser's back button.