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A tuple in mathematics is a sequence of numbers (n1, n2, n3).

In databases, a tuple is a single row of data from a table.

What is a tuple in normal everyday English, or where does the word come from? Is there a concrete real-life object from which this word is derived? WordNet does not have a definition.

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Would be nice if someone mentioned how they pronounce is right? I've heard people say "two-ple" a lot though. –  gideon Feb 17 '11 at 3:18
    
@giddy, someone thought the same as you: english.stackexchange.com/questions/12980/… –  Benjol Feb 17 '11 at 10:03

2 Answers 2

up vote 47 down vote accepted

The word derives from the extended series of single, double, triple, quadruple, quintuple,..., where named multiples beyond five are generally words that end in "tuple". The natural (Latin-derived) words peter out pretty quickly, and mathematics needs more terms than a simple bipedal meat unit can easily memorize, so the term "n-tuple" was coined. Computer science took that ball and ran with it, dropping the "n-" altogether.

In other words, "tuple" has no meaning in everyday English.

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I would rate your explanation better. :) –  ikartik90 Feb 16 '11 at 19:05
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There are also sextuple, septuple, and octuple. –  kiamlaluno Feb 16 '11 at 19:09
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@kiam Theoretically, you could continue that line ad infinitum. But in reality, no-one is that masochistic. ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Feb 16 '11 at 19:25
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@jae You mean, infinitytuple –  bobobobo Feb 17 '11 at 0:07
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@kiam Most people try to avoid saying sextuple. –  bobobobo Feb 17 '11 at 0:08

Nothing. The word tuple is back-formed from Latinisms like quintuple, and it is only used in technical contexts. The average English speaker has never heard the word, and it has no meaning outside of the context of mathematics or software engineering.

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I think it's actually a double back formation. I've seen n-tuple more commonly used in older texts, and tuple in newer texts. –  smithco Feb 16 '11 at 23:24
    
Man. So people who say its pronounced "too-ple" (instead of "tuh-ple") are really off the rocker? –  bobobobo Feb 17 '11 at 0:11
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Off the rocker we may be, but 'tuh-ple' would be more naturally spelled 'tupple'. As one who had never put explicit thought into the before, I naturally pronounced 'too-ple'. Is there a consensus? (we're back-forming words afterall!) –  zourtney Feb 17 '11 at 4:40
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@bobobobo - in British English people are most likely to say "quin-too-pl" rather than "quin-tuh-pl" anyway, so "too-pl" has that going for it anyway. Plus zourtney's good point about the spelling. –  AAT Feb 17 '11 at 7:59
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I'd like to make a note about pronunciation. I am British and I say 'tuh-ple' rather than 'too-ple' for words like 'quintuple'. Furthermore, I have never heard 'too-ple' from anyone else. Even 'quintuplets' and the like I would pronounce with a 'tuh' rather than a 'too' and so would anyone else I know. –  Karl Apr 3 '11 at 14:56

protected by tchrist Jun 12 at 18:24

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