Odd Words: Aliquant and Aliquot

Facepalm: Aliquant and AliquotWe are on to page seven of The New York Times Everyday Reader’s Dictionary of Misunderstood, Misused, and Mispronounced Words: Revised Edition. I had planned to do a legal word, but then I found these two mathematical words that I just had to do: aliquant and aliquot.

You Say Aliquant and I Say Aliquot

I love math. You all know that! God is a mathematician. But that should tell you something right there. Jim Holt once speculated that “the universe was created by a being that is 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective.” There’s no question but that mathematicians are an odd bunch. And the choice of these two words does strike me 100 percent malevolent.

So first up, we have: aliquant:

Al·i·quant  adjective  \al’-ə-kwənt\

1. (of a number) not dividing evenly into a larger number, as 6 is an aliquant part of 16. See also aliquot.

Date: late 17th century.

Origin: it comes from the Latin words alius (one of many) and quantus (amount or number).

Example: You don’t mean “aliquant” you mean “aliquot.” —Countless Mathematics Students

Next, we have: aliquot:

Al·i·quot  adjective  \al’-ə-kwət\

1. (of a number) dividing evenly into a larger number, as 6 is an aliquot part of 18. See also aliquant.

Date: late 16th century.

Origin: it comes from the Latin word aliquot (some, a small number).

Example: You don’t mean “aliquot” you mean “aliquant.” —Countless Mathematics Students

That’s right: these two words that sound almost identical mean exactly the opposite. It would be like deciding the best words for “yes” and “no” would be “yes” and “yef.” Only a mathematician would do this!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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