Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Because of the fact that Rene Descartes developed the Cartesian coordinate system, I would think that the word Cartesian would be named after him (Des-cartes). However, I can't shake the feeling that it should be named after the Latin carta, meaning map: after all, the Cartesian system is a mapping system.

Or maybe Descartes isn't the inventor's real name, and he changed his name to that after discovering the system?

Could someone help me out here?

share|improve this question
4  
For future reference, try etymonline.com for etymology. –  Mahnax May 1 '12 at 20:21
    
I was about to ask the question here then I typed Cartesian into the title box and this popped up. Thanks! –  Shuhao Cao Jul 17 '13 at 23:58
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 0 down vote accepted

It is after Descartes and not a map or "carte". Cartesian geometry is actually the main etymological driver here. As Descarte, amongst other things, actually came up with placing 2 numberlines perpendicularly in order to create the X-Y co-ordinate system we all know and love. In fact it wouldn't surprise me if the term carte (for map) is itself derived from Descartes.

share|improve this answer
4  
The term carte for map predates Descartes. According to dictionary.com: "before 1150; Middle English, Old English: writing paper, document, letter < Latin charta < Greek chártēs sheet of papyrus". The similarity appears to be entirely coincidental. –  Keith Thompson May 1 '12 at 20:53
1  
Per the Magna Carta, carta is Latin. I don't know where @KeithThompson got his phantom h from. –  tchrist May 1 '12 at 21:18
    
@tchrist: As I said, I got it from dictionary.com, which could well be incorrect; Wiktionary shows the Latin as carta. –  Keith Thompson May 1 '12 at 22:12
add comment

According to Etymonline, Cartesian is the:

…Latinized form of the name of French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes (1596-1650).

So yes, it is named after him.

share|improve this answer
    
Exactly. The reason is that des- merely means "of", so it is like calling a symphony Beethovian rather than Vanbeethovian after Ludwig van Beethoven, except that the preposition happens to be written attached to Cartes nowadays so it is harder to recognize. There was considerably more freedom in spelling in those days, so both des Cartes and Descartes were probably acceptable. Note that des literally means "of the" (van means "of"). –  Cerberus May 2 '12 at 3:23
add comment

Merriam-Webster shows that Cartesian is derived from the Latinised form of "Descartes", Cartesius.

share|improve this answer
add comment

If you are asking why it isn't called the "Descartesian" system. Descartes would originally have meant "of Cartes" and presumably some distant ancestor came from a village called Cartes

So when his name was latinised they dropped the 'of' part and based it on the main part - cartes

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.