Where the Word “Algebra” Came From

Today I found out the origins of the word “Algebra”.

It all started back around 825 AD when a man named Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī, the “father” of Algebra, wrote a book called “Kitab al-jabr wa al-muqabalah”.  This roughly translates to “Rules of Reintegration and Reduction”.  This work was specifically covering the branch of mathematics we now know as Algebra and was the most notable work on the subject during this period, covering such things as polynomial equations up to the second degree; introducing methods for reduction and balancing; and other such staple algebraic methods.

It was so notable that it eventually found its way into Europe, becoming the first text book on the subject of Algebra in Europe.  The Europeans eventually used the name “al-jabr” for the name of this subject (which in the translated Latin text version was “algebrae”, hence “algebra”).

“Al-jabr” more or less just means “reunion of broken parts”; basically describing the method for solving both sides of an equation.

Bonus Fact:

  • The word “algorithm” comes from none other than al-Khwarizmi’s name.    If you distort the name slightly when you say it, you’ll get the connection.
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19 comments

  • Christopher Abraham

    Algebra was not invented by Arabs as they want to claim. What happened was that they went to India, to the place now known as Kerala and learnt it from the Indians there.

    Upon return to the Arab countries, they started teaching it and subsequently this guy Al Jabr wrote this book and and everyone accredited him to be the founder of Algebra.

    Many of the medical knowledge the Arabs claim that they discovered were all learnt from Indians way back. India had the oldest University in the world and many people from all over the world went there to study and ring back the knowledge to their own countries. There were even students from China studying in Nalanda University in the early part of the first millennium.

  • Some hypocrites do not want to give any credit to Muslims. Even if the origin is possibly from India and even China the modern albebra owes a lot to Al Khwarizmi whose book Kitab Al-jabr gave the name algebra.

  • @Jaffar Shaikh – why is someone a HYPOCRITE if they don’t want to give credit to a group of people who are in no way responsible for something?

    You are correct when you imply that al-Khwarizmi was a great mathematician who added to the information he learned when he TRANSLATED A BOOK from Indian to Greek and Arabic – the book that you reference was NOT written by him in the year 825, it was TRANSLATED by him from old Indian texts and he wrote ‘commentary’ on it. But the point is HE NEVER COULD HAVE ADDED TO SOMETHING IF IT HAD NOT ALREADY BEEN CREATED BY SOMEONE ELSE. IN ADDITION THERE IS EVIDENCE HE WAS NOT MUSLIM, BUT ZOROASTRIAN – BECAUSE HE WAS PERSIAN, NOT ARABIC.

    The Alexandrian Greek mathematician Diophantus (in the 200s, 600 yrs before Khwarizmi), sometimes called “the father of algebra”, wrote a series of books, called Arithmetica, dealing with solving algebraic equations.

    Another Hellenistic mathematician who contributed to the progress of algebra was Hero of Alexandria, as did the Indian Brahmagupta in his book Brahmasphutasiddhanta.

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