You may know that the word algebra comes from Arabic, but you probably didn’t know that it has something to do with resetting broken bones. Or that the word cardinal (used both religiously and mathematically) comes from the Latin term for the hinge of a door. Or that there are theorems for trying to calculate the age of a language, a field called glottochronology. Or that Archimedes, at least in legend, died (at the hands of a Roman soldier) with the words Noli tangere circulos meos! (“Get off my circles!”).

Anyone interested in words and language—indeed, in culture—will find something fascinating on every page of the new book by Anthony Lo Bello ’69, a professor of mathematics at Allegheny College. This “discursive etymological dictionary” bears a dry title: Origins of Mathematical Words: A Comprehensive Dictionary of Latin, Greek, and Arabic Roots (Johns Hopkins University Press). But once you start to browse, it’s hard to stop. Lo Bello engagingly digs his way from abacus to zero, exploring technical terms (clepsydra, a Greek water-clock), words with both mathematical and ordinary associations (ruin), history (calendar mathematics), intellectual figures (see Cartesian) and knowledge itself (philosophy).

If you thought mathematicians were always dispassionate, check out Lo Bello’s strong opinions on terms like grade point average, innovation, robust and metadata. Or see his entry on cant (“humbug”). The author doesn’t hesitate to skewer, often humorously. But his complaints are rooted in intellectual commitment. “If the muscles in the brain that control reason and art need to be developed,” writes Lo Bello, “then the appropriate stimulation is mathematics.” - Dan Laskin

Recent Books by Kenyon Authors

Isaac Gilman ’03, Library Scholarly Communcation Programs: Legal and Ethical Considerations (Chandos Publishing). Libraries not only consume scholarly publications, they also produce them. This book, aimed primarily at library administrators and repository managers, covers topics ranging from research and publication ethics to privacy and intellectual property questions. Gilman is a professor and librarian at Pacific University.

Scott Gosnell ’93, translator, On the Shadows of Ideas and The Art of Memory (Huginn Muninn & Co., CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). Gosnell has translated two noted works on memory (De Umbris Idearum and Ars Memoriae) by the sixteenth-century philosopher Giordano Bruno. Bruno (1548-1600) built on the classical mnemonic system known as “method of loci” or “memory palace.”

Stephanie Klein ’91, editor with Ann Hergatt Huffman, Green Organizations: Driving Change with I-O Psychology (Routledge). The field of industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology has traditionally focused on workplace behavior with the aim of enhancing productivity and efficiency. The essays here, by authors including scholars as well as the former CEO of Intel, show how organizations can use I-O to promote social responsibility, environmental sustainability and “green behaviors.”

Sheppard Benet Kominars ’53, Portal Poems: Perspectives on Aging (Good Sheppard Press). “I’ve somehow gone from swagger / to stagger,” Kominars writes in “Managing My Life as an Antique.” In “A Dozen Peeves in a Pod,” he contemplates recalcitrant buttons, hard-to-reach shoelaces and the “errant procreation of tiny pills.” But if these poems deal with the realities of age and mortality, they invariably—and often playfully—celebrate life and spirit. Readers will join Kominars in gratitude that “the bright ink in all /
my pens still flows.”

Eric D. Lehman ’94, Becoming Tom Thumb: Charles Stratton, P.T. Barnum, and the Dawn of American Celebrity (Wesleyan University Press). Charles Stratton, the diminutive performer known as “General Tom Thumb,” was arguably America’s first international entertainer-celebrity—a “curiosity,” signed by the impresario P.T. Barnum and put on exhibit at four years old, who quickly became a multi-talented child star and, never growing much beyond three feet, went on to dazzle audiences around the globe during a career lasting almost forty years. In this first full biography, Lehman portrays Stratton as actor, singer, comedian and clown, but also as pioneer and entrepreneur.

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