Etymology of Units

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This one of several cool little documents I used when teaching math.  The other documents are also posted on the site home page.

Etymology - Middle English/Anglo-French ethimologie, from Latin etymologia,

from Greek etymon + -logia -logy;

The history of a linguistic form (such as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language(s) where it is found.

There is a vocabulary aspect to math that is just as important as numbers.  My experience in the classroom is that many math difficulties stem from reading and comprehension. That's why I started all new material with reading and vocabulary before I started on the actual numbers. This sheet explains some of that vocabulary and is a good handout reference.  Rather than just memorizing terms, students can read and understand where they came from and how they fit in.

To confuse matters even more, there are different versions and sources of prefixes. The first prefix is number-derived; second, third, and fourth are based on mythology. Fifth and sixth are supposed to be just that: fifth and sixth. But, with the seventh, another fork was taken. The General Conference of Weights and Measures (CGMP, Headquartered in Paris since 1874) decided to name the prefixes, starting with the seventh, with the letters of the Latin alphabet, but starting from the far end.

As a mathematical progression, each level is 1000 times the previous level.  1000 = 103. So mega = one million = 1000 x 1000 = 103 x 103 = 106 (NOT 109).  It continues from there.

Etymology of Mathematical Units 

1.      Kilo Greek khilioi = 1000

2.      Mega Greek megas = great

3.      Giga Latin gigas = giant

4.      Tera Greek teras = monster ; also Greek tetra = four; tetra -t = tera

5.      Peta Greek pente = five, fifth prefix, peNta - N = peta

6.      Exa Greek hex = six, sixth prefix,  also from the Latin ex, the 24th letter of the alphabet

7.      Zetta from Greek Theta meaning eight; also Zeta the last letter of the Latin alphabet ; also French septo = seven

8.      Yotta from Greek Iota/Yota - the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet representing the ninth exponent; also Latin Y, the next to the last letter of the Latin             alphabet