Question: When two people are involved in an argument we often say they are "at loggerheads." Why is this?
Answer: The origin of the phrase "at loggerheads" is somewhat obscure. We do know that expressive use of the word "loggerhead" in phrases referring to quarrelsome disagreement dates back at least three hundred years. the first example of this use recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary (20-volume historical dictionary of the English language) comes from a late 17th-century work by British writer Francis Kirkman: "They frequently quarrell'd about their Sicilian wenches, and indeed. . .they seem. . .to be worth gong to Logger-heads for." But how did the expression come about to begin with? Nobody knows for sure.
The word "loggerhead" itself goes back to Shakespearse's time and in fact was first penned by the Bard himself in the late 16th century with the meaning "block-head": "Ah, you whoreson loggerhead, you were born to do me shame." (Love's Labor's Lost, IV.iii.119-200). Shakespeare's use here reflects the word's probably development from an English dialect sense of the word "logger" meaning "a block of wood," plus "head." The word "loggerhead" was later used 1) with the meaning "a large head," 2) as the name of a kind of turtle, and 3) for an iron tool (with a long handle and a ball or bulb on the end) used to melt tar or heat liquid. Unfortunately, none of these meanings suggests an obvious link to expression "at loggerheads."
The theory of origin most commonly advanced is that the phrase evolved from a use of the tool mentioned in No. 3 above, or some similar instrument, as a weapon in disputes. It has been suggested, for example, that sailors may have use dloggerheads in naval battles to throw tar at the enemy's ship, or, alternatively, that folks got into scuffles with the loggerheads they used to heat "flip" (a beverage of sweetened spice liquor and beaten eggs) after they had had too much to drink. But regretably, all this is just speculation; we will probably never learn the true history of this intriguing expression.
Question: My math teacher told our class that "algebra" means "bone fracture." He didn't know the history of the word, so could you please give it?
Answer: In the 9th century, the Arab mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi wrote a systematic introduction to algebra titled "Kitab al-jabr wa'l-muqabalah - Book of Restroing and Balancing," Translated into Latin, this work was the source of much of the mathematical knowledge of Medieval Europe. From the "al-jabr" ("restoring") of the book's title, the science of "restoring and balancing" came to be known as "algebra," first in Latin, then, in the 16ht century, in English.
The Arabic verb "jabara" means "to draw together, reunite, restore." The noun phrase "al-jabr" thus has applications other than its mathematical one. It is, for example, also the Arabic term for the surgical treatment of bone fractures, that is, for bone-setting.
During the 16th century, at least, "algebra" had multible meanings in English, for it was an English word for "bone-setting" as well, and sometimes it was also used for "bone fracture."
Al-Khwarizmi wrote another book which introduced the Arabic numeral system and decimal notation. A word for this system, "algorism," came from the Latin form of the author's name, "algorismi." Later, it was sometimes changed to "algorithm" (influenced by the "th" in "arithmetic"). In the late 19th century "algorithm" came to mean "a procedure for solving mathematical problems," the sense it has today.