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The words

have a large number of letters in common. So:

Question: Is there an etymological link between the words "asymptote" and "asymptomatic"?

And, of course, if so, what is it?

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OED says they both derive from Gr. σύµπτωµα chance, accident, mischance, disease. Leading to συµπίπτειν - to fall together, fall upon, happen to, and ἀσύµπτωτος - not falling together. – FumbleFingers Nov 1 '12 at 22:16
asymptote (n.) "straight line continually approaching but never meeting a curve," 1650s, from Gk. asymptotos "not falling together," from a- "not" + syn "with" + ptotos "fallen," verbal adjective from piptein "to fall" (see petition). Related: Asymptotic. symptomatic (adj.) 1690s, from Fr. symptomatique or directly from L.L. symptomaticus, from symptomat-, stem of symptoma (see symptom). Related: Symptomatical (1580s). asymptomatic (adj.) "without symptoms," 1856, from a-, privative prefix, + symptomatic. – user21497 Nov 1 '12 at 22:34
So the answer is, yes, there is an etymological link but 'asymptote' is a more recent mathematical technical term, and 'symptom' is much older technical medical term and much further removed from its literal meaning. – Mitch Nov 2 '12 at 14:51

Gk. piptein “to fall” is the common factor between asymptote (Gk. asymptotos “not falling together”) and asymptomatic (a + sympiptein “to befall”).

(Culled from Online Etymology Dictionary.)

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origin C17: from mod. L. asymptota (linea) ‘(line) not meeting’, from Gk asumptōtos ‘not falling together’.


origin ME synthoma, from med. L., based on Gk sumptōma ‘chance, symptom’, from sumpiptein ‘happen’; later influenced by Fr. symptome.

So, they're not really related, other than both being derived from Latin via Greek, and sharing the Greek prefix "sum" ("with").

  • asymptote comes from 17th Century mathematics, symptom from medieval times
  • asymptote is derived from the Greek ἀσύμπτωτος (not falling in), while symptom comes from the Greek σύμπτωμα (something that happens, a chance, an occurrence)
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Hmm. FumbleFingers' comment quoting OED directly contradicts this. – Andrew Leach Nov 1 '12 at 22:39
The similarity of 'falling in' and 'happening' seems to me non-coincidental (pun intended). – TimLymington Nov 1 '12 at 23:26

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