Fun Etymology Tuesday – Zero

Tuesday has arrived, followers, and that can only mean one thing: Fun Etymology!

Today’s word is “zero”.

The concept attached to this little word is one we take for granted today, but it revolutionised mathematics and changed history forever.
The idea of “nothing” being a number seems intuitive today, but for millennia nobody ever thought of it, until the idea came to someone in Gupta dynasty India. From there, it exploded, and it made possible kinds of calculation previously undreamed of. Mathematics would not see such a revolution again until the invention of calculus in the 1600s.

The word itself comes to English from Arabic ‘sifr’, through Latin ‘zephirum’, then Italian ‘zero’ and French ‘zero’ (probably abbreviations born to differentiate the new word from the already existing word ‘Zephyr’, the name of a wind). The Arabic word was itself a translation of the Sanskrit ‘sunyam’, meaning ’emptiness, desert’, and is also the source of English ‘cipher’ or ‘cypher’.

A well-traveled word for a revolutionary concept.

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