May 21, 2014

Case File #014.05.21: ZERO

Zero ultimately comes from the Arabic word sifr, which is used to mean either “nothing” or “empty.” (Yes, the English word cipher, which once meant “zero” or “null” before it came to mean “code” or “to encode or to compute arithmetically,” stems from that same Arabic source.) In the early thirteenth century, Medieval Latin used the Arabic as the basis for the word zephirum, meaning “of nothing” or “with nothing,” and sometime during the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, the Latin passed into both French and Italian as zero. It wasn't until the early seventeenth century, however, that English speakers borrowed the French and Italian word and applied it to the arithmetical figure 0 and its related concepts, and it was as late as 1813 before the English zero took on its now common but informal noun sense of “a person or thing of no importance or having little measurable influence.”

©2014 Michael R. Gates

No comments:

Post a Comment