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7 Math Words You Haven’t Used Since High School

For many of us, the math we do on an everyday basis involves simple calculations, such as figuring out a tip, or perhaps measuring the area of a room for new flooring. If you haven’t picked up a protractor in years, words such as “integer” and “polygon” have likely lost their meaning. But it’s always useful to refresh your academic roots — here are seven words that will help you remember those high school math lessons.

Binomial

This one might ring a bell from the days of algebra class. A binomial is a mathematical expression with two terms connected by a plus or minus sign. It looks something like this: 3x2 + 2y2. The word originates from the terms “bi,” meaning “two,” and “nomos,” meaning “part.” In contrast, a monomial has only one part, while a trinomial has three parts.

Exponent

In math, exponents are also called “powers.” An exponent describes how many times to multiply a number by itself. For example, in the case of 54, the exponent is the numeral 4 — meaning five is multiplied by itself four times. Using a term such as “exponent” is a shorthand in math. Saying “five to the fourth power” or “five with an exponent of four” is a lot quicker than listing out “5 x 5 x 5 x 5 = 625.”

Fractal

This is a geometry term that indicates a complex, never-ending pattern. Everyday, recognizable items such as snowflakes, lightning bolts, plants, leaves, crystals, and tree branches can be fractals. This relatively new mathematical term was coined in the 1970s by Polish mathematician Benoit B. Mandelbrotfrom the Latin root fractus, which means “broken.”

Hypotenuse

In the 1879 Gilbert & Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance, the modern major-general celebrates knowing “many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse” by bursting into song. But what is a hypotenuse? Quite simply, it’s the longest side of a right triangle, which is found directly opposite a right, or 90-degree, angle. The word comes from the Greek terms hupo, which means “under,” and teinein, which means “stretch.”

Integer

An integer is just a whole number; it’s not a fraction or decimal. In other words, 1 is an integer. So are 205, 6,784, and -32. But 6.75 and 8½ are not integers. The word comes from the Latin terms in, meaning “whole,” and tangere, meaning “to touch.” It has similar roots to “integral” and “integrity.”

Polygon

One of the first things children learn about in school is the concept of shapes, and that’s what a polygon is — a figure with at least three straight sides and angles. Simple polygons include triangles, squares, pentagons, and even stars. However, shapes such as circles, hearts, and moons are not polygons because they have curves. The word “polygon” comes from the Greek term polugōnos, meaning “many-angled.”

Quadratic

One of the first things children learn about in school is the concept of shapes, and that’s what a polygon is — a figure with at least three straight sides and angles. Simple polygons include triangles, squares, pentagons, and even stars. However, shapes such as circles, hearts, and moons are not polygons because they have curves. The word “polygon” comes from the Greek term polugōnos, meaning “many-angled.”

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