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What is the etymology of the word 'kinematics' - the maths of movement, not taking into account physical forces such as friction and air resistance.

I was speaking with a friend about it and suggested that it comes from the two words: kinetic (essentially meaning movement) and mathematics. These 2 words seemed to go together well to make 'kinematics', and seemed a liable suggestion as kinematics is the mathematics of movement.

He laughed at me and said "That's ridiculous, no words come from just putting 2 words together".

So, what is the etymology of kinematics?

And just so that when I next see him I can give him some words that were made from 2 being put together, it would be lovely if you could throw a few into your answer.

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closed as general reference by FumbleFingers, Kris, MετάEd, Mahnax, kiamlaluno Sep 15 '12 at 21:28

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

No words come from just putting two words together, he says? Show him this. Or just ask him if he's ever heard the word "Microsoft". Or cupboard. –  RegDwigнt Sep 13 '12 at 19:06
I know, he's being stupid, I know full well there are hundreds. –  Olly Price Sep 13 '12 at 19:08
Anyway, etymonline.com/index.php?term=kinematics –  RegDwigнt Sep 13 '12 at 19:08
I don't see the point of this question. What's so hard to understand about the etymology? The idea that "kinetic" and "mathematics" might be some kind of portmanteau really is a non-starter once you look in an etymological dictionary. TLDR - General Reference. –  FumbleFingers Sep 13 '12 at 22:23
Poor research. Voting to close as GR. –  Kris Sep 14 '12 at 7:00

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Etymonline for kinematics shows

“science of motion,” 1840, from Fr. cinématique (Ampère, 1834), from Gk. kinesis “movement, motion” (see cite). Related: Kinematic (1864); kinematical.

That is, in 1834 Ampère coined (or used) the French term cinématique, which was adopted into English as kinematics ca. 1840. Note, the entry for cite refers to Greek kinein, “to move”.

Under Kinematics, OED cited Whewell, 1840: “M. Ampère, in his Essai sur la Philosophie des Sciences (1834)..proposes to term it Kinematics (Cinématique)” and Thomson & Tait, 1879: “We adopt the suggestion of Ampere and use the term Kinematics for the purely geometrical science of motion in the abstract.”

Kinematics thus sprang into being as a single word, or perhaps as a root plus a suffix. In English, suffix -ic is “Used to form adjectives from nouns with the meaning "of or pertaining to"”. However, kinematics came from the French with a -tique suffix already in use, so -tics was an English adaptation rather than addition to the word.

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Not sure I really understand that... –  Olly Price Sep 13 '12 at 19:24
Okay, I do now, do you know how Ampere came to cinematique? If you know any French you might be able to tell me the etymology of cinematique –  Olly Price Sep 13 '12 at 19:25
@OllyPrice As jwpat7 mentions in his answer, cinema comes from the same Greek root. Also, cinematography: "from Greek: κίνημα, kinema 'movement' and γράφειν, graphein 'to record'". Note that kinema lends itself to kinematic the way charisma gives us charismatic (Greek words ending in -ma). –  Zairja Sep 13 '12 at 19:32
@Olly, I don't know. It seems difficult to find that etymology because the word cinématique in its kinematics sense is overpowered, among web pages, by use in its French-cinema sense. –  jwpat7 Sep 13 '12 at 19:33
@OllyPrice Correct. We're adding the suffix -ics ("study of") to kinema. You can read about the -ic and -tic suffixes. –  Zairja Sep 13 '12 at 19:38

It's a direct derivation from the Greek, though it wasn't coined till the 19th century. The Greek for 'motion' is kinema from the root verb kineein, and -ic (or -tic after a vowel) is a common way of forming adjectives both in Greek and in English. Certainly kinetics would have been a simpler word for this new-fangled 'science of motion'; but the word was already taken. It does appear that Ampere was the first to name the science, as 'cinematique'; English scientists preferred the version/translation kinematics.

(Kinematograph was a similar coinage, to describe 'moving pictures', and both that and its abbreviation kinema are common in the literature of the period. It seems that what determined the modern cinema for one and kinematics for the other may have been simply that there were more scientific pioneers of photography who spoke French, and more scientists of motion who spoke English.)

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