• An actor is "cast" in a role: Jane Lee is cast as "Jo Smith".
  • A sculpture is "cast" in bronze: molten bronze is poured into a mould.
  • A variable is "cast" as a certain type of information in programming: is 1 the number one, or a string consisting of the character '1'? You "cast" it to resolve that problem.

Are these all the same verb at the root?

Here are the relevant verb definitions from Oxford Dictionaries Online:

1 [usually with adverbial of direction] chiefly literary Throw (something) forcefully in a specified direction: he cast the book down on to the chair angrily the fishermen cast a large net around a school of tuna figurative individuals who do not accept the norms are cast out from the group

4 Shape (metal or other material) by pouring it into a mould while molten: when hammered or cast, bronze could be made into tools

4.2 Arrange and present in a specified form or style: he issued statements cast in tones of reason

[unnumbered, noun] The actors taking part in a play, film, or other production: he draws sensitive performances from his inexperienced cast

Here's a definition from Merriam-Webster Learner's Dictionary for cast as a verb in relation to actors:

4 a : to assign roles for (a play, movie, etc.) to actors. cast a play
b : to assign (an actor or actress) a role in a film, play, etc. She was cast as a college professor who becomes a spy.

  • Which dictionaries have you checked in? Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:28
  • The phantom upvoter fingers their nose at site policy yet again. Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 23:37
  • 3
    @EdwinAshworth I found the question interesting enough to add the definitions myself. (I wasn't the phantom up-voter but have up-voted after adding the dictionary definitions.)
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 0:07
  • I'll note that I've never read any explanation of why the term was chosen for it's programming sense. (And likely the people who would know are dead.) There's a good chance, though, that the term may have had a pre-existing mathematical sense.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 0:07
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth I agree the definitions I added don't answer the question - that makes the core of the question not genref. I added the definitions to avoid having the otherwise-good and interesting question getting closed for lack of research. I also agree the answer below (in its current form) doesn't answer the question, but that also doesn't invalidate the question.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


Cast is a prolific term with tens of different meanings, the root appears to be the same one:

  • c. 1200, "to throw, fling, hurl," from a Scandinavian source akin to Old Norse kasta "to throw" (cognate with Swedish kasta, Danish kaste, North Frisian kastin), of uncertain origin.

  • Meaning "to form in a mold" is late 15c. In the sense of "warp, turn" it replaced Old English weorpan (see warp (v.)), and itself largely has been superseded now by throw, though cast still is used of fishing lines and glances. Meaning "calculate, find by reckoning; chart (a course)" is from c. 1300.

  • The sense of "a throw" carried an idea of "the form the thing takes after it has been thrown," which led to widespread and varied meanings, such as "group of actors in a play" (1630s).

  • OED finds 42 distinct noun meaning and 83 verbal ones, with many sub-definitions. Many of the figurative senses converged in a general meaning "sort, kind, style" (mid-17c.). A cast in the eye (early 14c.) preserves the older verbal sense of "warp, turn."


  • What is the relevance of bolding cast still is used of fishing lines and glances? I believe the "meaning calculate" is significant to the cast a variable meaning, whatever that means. If a computer programming term hadn't been also included, I'd be tempted to dig deeper myself. I suspect cast is similar to run and set which have dozens and dozens of different meanings.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 15:42
  • @Mari-LouA - I was making an answer but someone started screaming, shouting , down-and-close voting...I gave up and forgot about it.
    – user66974
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 17:40
  • Well it's still open, make the most of it. The question is also mentioned on meta
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 18:57

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