A few hours after I wrote about anfractuosidad/anfractuosity, which incorporates Latin fract- ‘broken,’ I saw in The New York Times that the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot had died. Mandelbrot (whose last name happens to mean ‘almond bread’) had the insight to discover or create the type of abstract mathematical object he named a fractal, based on the word fracción/fraction, which likewise goes back to Latin fract-; compared to the whole number 1, a common fraction like 3/5 is figuratively ‘broken.’ Mandelbrot chose the name fractal for his beautiful mathematical objects because he conceived them as having fractional dimensions. That conception fractured the mathematical orthodoxy of the time, but such an infracción/infraction is common to people of great insight. English might call such people fractious, which Noah Webster quaintly defined as ‘apt to break out into a passion; apt to quarrel; cross; snappish; as a fractious man.’

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. niasunset
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 13:54:41

    Another interesting notes… Following your notes I read this on a website that was an interview with this mathematician, I found it interesting too, as yours… They asked him, “How did you come up with the word “fractal”?” His answer was from his son’s Latin Dictionary… I hope you enjoy reading this interview, at least this part dear Steven,

    Thank you, with my love, nia


  2. Steve Schwartzman
    Dec 16, 2011 @ 14:54:56

    I’m familiar with Mandelbrot and fractals, so I appreciate learning that he came up with the name based on a word he found in a Latin dictionary. Thanks.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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