It seems so obvious in retrospect that algebra is Arabic! Like hazard, its structure is very distinguishable from Indo-European languages in the bizarre use of consonants and a favoring of the letter a. This discovery lead me further, to the origin of algorithm. Perhaps it is fitting to start with the latter. Algorithm comes from French algorithme, meaning "system of computation". This came from the earlier French word algorisme, which derived from Latin algorismus "an Arabic numeral system". Algorismus is a corrupted translation of a man's name, Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi. If you take a closer look at al-Khwarizmi, you can note the similarities with algorithm. But who is this Khwarizmi chap anyway? The man who invented algebra! Back in the ninth century, al-Khwarizmi created a new form of mathematics, and named it al-jabr, or "reunion of broken parts" (describing how you solve the equations). Best as I can tell, jabr goes back to the Semitic root j-b-r (keep in mind there were no vowels), probably meaning "broken" as in bones, though uncertain. In any case, al-Khwarizmi's word weaseled its way into Latin as algebra, which found its way here today. It's fascinating how algebra sprung from an algorithm! Etymology is AMAZING!
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.