More About Numbers – Zero

I love Reader’s Digest. It has so many interesting articles – positive and heartwarming, but also updated health information and other current topics. My favorite sections, as you might expect, are the funny comments and the puzzle sections. One of my favorite puzzles is a section called “Word Power.”

In the February, 2021, issue, we had to know words for curved shapes, like ellipse, cupola, and oculus (oh yes, I missed some of the definitions). One of the extra bits of information was a brief history of the symbol for zero. I think it’s interesting that the zero shape may be a circle or an oval – apparently, either is acceptable, although using just a circle could be confused with the letter “O” (one reason a zero is often shown with a diagonal line through the symbol – to distinguish it from O).

Another tidbit was the origin of the word zero (quoted from the article): “[T]he word zero comes from the Latin zephirum and the Arabic sifr (“empty”). For a term that means, well, nothing, it has a lot of synonyms: cipher, zilch, naught, and nil, to name a few.”

“Some sports have their own terms: baseball gave us ‘goose egg’ (to mean a team scored no runs), tennis uses ‘love’ to mean no points.” Why love? The article says it’s probably from the idea of playing for nothing but ‘love of the game.’

Hah! How many of you sporty types out there don’t care if you score any points because you are simply playing for the love of the game?

5 thoughts on “More About Numbers – Zero”

  1. I wonder how people in Denmark differentiate between their Ø and a 0 with a strike through it?

    Also, fun reading the origin of zero. In Turkish, zero is “sıfır” – similar to the Arabic word.

    • Hi Eric
      The similarity between the Turkish word for zero and the Arabic makes sense, as they are close, geographically.
      I am curious about the Danish information! Their upper case “O” has a diagonal line through it? Interesting! I wonder why?

      • Information from Carol:
        A Zero with a diagonal line through it is also used in engineering, to indicate the diameter of a circle (per an Internet search).
        But wait, there’s more! The Greek letter phi is a circle with a vertical line through it which, apparently (also according to an Internet search), is used to indicate an angle. And then there is the Greek letter, theta, which is a circle with a horizontal line through it.
        When we get into math, science, and symbols, the world can get confusing. For example, I was taught in science that the triangle (“delta”) represented “change,” so it took me a while to change my thinking when I learned in law school that the triangle was short-hand for “defendant.” I kept wanting to “change” the names of the parties 😂. . .
        All you math and science types – chime in!

          • Interesting! It makes sense that what I remembered as “change” could be equivalent to “difference,” but I had no idea about “pi.” Now I’m curious – which came first, “pi” or the circle shape of a pie?
            Thanks, Adam!

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