4

I gave a list number-based nouns borrowed from Greek as an answer to a question on using numbers as nouns: monas, dyas, trias, tetras, pentas, hexas, heptas, octas, enneas, decas… One can conceivably continue the list further with Greek numerals, but how about taking one step back?

Is there a similar word corresponding to the number zero? Just like the number zero and the empty set and the zero-dimensional vector space are very useful concepts, I can imagine myself, as a mathematician, wanting have a word for a rank zero version of some kind corresponding to monads, dyads, and tetrads. What I am looking for is something that feels like a natural continuation of the words listed above, not merely a Greek word for nothingness — unless it happens to fit the bill. A noun ending in -ăs, -ădĭs (so as to make the continuation of the pattern clear) when borrowed to Latin would be great.

Neither Greek nor Latin seems to have a classical word for the number zero, so perhaps it should be based on something like "nothing" or "empty" instead. If trias means "a group of three" instead of just "three", I'm looking for something that means "a group with no members" instead of just "nothing". What is the best option for a continuation of the list down to zero? Coining a new word is fine, as long as it comes with a justification.

4
  • Nulla and nihil look like good candidates in Latin. This wp article and section suggests where to look for a Greek name too. Apparently there could have been a classical word for the concept, even if it was just a novel meaning for an already existent word.
    – Rafael
    Jan 4, 2023 at 18:53
  • @Rafael Those are good words to start from, but the analogy to the listed words starting at monas is far from clear to a reader. Something like *nullăs or *nihilăs would be more recognizable as a continuation of the pattern. If trias means "a group of three" instead of "three", I'm looking for something that means "a group with no members" instead of "nothing". Different answers exploring different options would be very welcome; there's room for several takes on this.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 4, 2023 at 21:12
  • Yes, I know my comment is far from a complete answer. BTW: I was writing something different at first. The fact that zero was adopted in classical times was a complete surprise to me.
    – Rafael
    Jan 5, 2023 at 12:39
  • @CosmasZachos I would actually be happy to see that as an answer. It might not be very pretty, but it might still be the best option. Exploring the options, even if the conclusion ends up being "please no", is very welcome.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jan 9, 2023 at 12:20

2 Answers 2

1

μηδέν (not even one—for zero) might suggest the deplorable μηδεμονάς?

Horrible... leading to the rabbit hole of οὐδεμονάς, alarming even in suburban Σόλοι... They'd opt for κένωσις there... A lurid nightmare signifying nothing.

0

In ancient Greek mathematics and in the language itself, zero was not considered a number (https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/6072/did-the-ancient-greeks-have-zero-in-their-number-system).

So, while there may be words for e.g. "none," there is no word for the number zero analogous to monas, dyas, etc.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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