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I was recently wondering where the word `kernel' comes from in mathematics. I am sure the internet must know. I did manage to find

which contains the origin of many math words but it doesn't have `kernel'; it also only seems to address math words you might run into in at most a 1st or 2nd year college math course. I'm wondering if anyone is aware of a reference that might address the origin of more modern math words (but not so modern that it doesn't discuss kernel).

EDIT: By `math etymology' I mean why a particular word was used for a certain math concept. Of course such an explanation might involve discussing the actual etymology of the word.

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If you had typed "etymology" in the search box at the top of the page you'd have found references to Jeff Miller's list in prior posts here. – Bill Dubuque Jan 29 '11 at 1:42
Did you want to know about kernel in algebra or in analysis? – KCd Jan 29 '11 at 21:34
up vote 8 down vote accepted

You'll want to check out Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics, maintained by Jeff Miller. In particular, an entry for 'kernel' appears here.

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That earliest known use doesn't explain why the word kernel was chosen in algebra. – KCd Jan 29 '11 at 21:34
@KCd: That's true, nor does it give any reason to think that Pontrjagan's use was first. I was a bit surprised that the answer was accepted. – Jonas Meyer Jan 29 '11 at 22:19

It's unclear if you want to discuss the reason for a particular choice of a word (whether coined or borrowed), or the etymological meaning of the word. For example, "kernel" is a perfectly fine English word, refering to a whole seed of a cereal (the word coming from the Indo-European root greno-). But the etyomological origin is somewhat different from the reason why it was chosen to refer to the particular mathematical concept it refers to.

One source for the etymology (and sometimes mathematical origin) is The Words of Mathematics: An Etymological Dictionary of Mathematical Terms Used in English, by Steven Schwartzmann, published by the Mathematical Association of America. It will tell you things like what the Latin origin of "conjecture" is, and so on. It does not provide much in the way of historical mathematical origin (i.e., why the word was chosen for that particular concept). Sometimes this is clear from the origin of the word, but often this is not the case.

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Hopefully I've clarified things in the question. I meant the former. And thanks for the answer but maybe not quite what I'm looking for. – solbap Jan 28 '11 at 21:27
@solbap: Yes, it's now clear. I had high hopes for Schwartzmann's book when I bought it, but I find that it is disappointing for modern words such as kernel and coset. For "classical" words (parameter, polygon, etc) it's pretty good, though. – Arturo Magidin Jan 28 '11 at 21:37

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