"For a long time I had a strong desire in studying and research in sciences to distinguish some from others, particularly the book [Euclid's] Elements of Geometry which is the origin of all mathematics, and discusses point, line, surface, angle, etc." (Khayyam in Fauvel and Gray, 6.C.2, p. 236)

I don't understand the beginning of the sentence. The author had a strong desire in what exactly ? In studying ? In studying, and research in sciences ? What does he distinguish ? From other what ?

The syntax used confuses me.

  • Welcome to ELU! The in phrase does not complement desire--we speak of a desire for something or to do something, but not a desire in something. Jan 19, 2014 at 19:28

2 Answers 2


This is a translation from a mediaeval work in Farsi or Arabic, and it is impossible for someone unfamiliar with the original to say whether the translator was trying unsucessfully to express some nuance or, on the contrary, was simply to reproducing faithfully some incoherency he felt it improper to resolve.

My guess, however, is that the phrase in studying and research in sciences is a sentential adjunct; that it is works which are distinguished; and that distinguish X from Y is meant in the sense “recognize X for their distinct superiority to Y” rather than ”describe the elements which distinguish X from Y*.

I would, then, paraphrase:

In the course of my study and research in the sciences, I had long desired to address the distinct excellence of some works, particularly that of the Elements of Geometry ...


It is not a phrase with which, as native English speaker, I am any more familiar than you. However what I suppose the author means is that they had a 'strong desire to sort the wheat from the chaff'.

And the meaning of that figure of speech is to distinguish the good from the mediocre, the well articulated and authentically expressed from the inadequately written material on the subjects concerned.

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