# What is the name for the shape formed by removing a square from the corner of a larger square?

Squares of consecutive numbers differ by the sum of those numbers, so $6^2 = 5^2 + 5 + 6$. Geometrically, this is because the difference between the two squares is a pair of strips, $5$ and $6$ units long, that together form L-shaped polygon.

Is there a name for this L-shaped polygon? I vaguely recall that the ancient Greeks had a name for this shape, but I can't find it anywhere.

The name for the shape is gnomon. From Wikipedia:

The ancient Greek mathematician and astronomer Oenopides used the phrase drawn gnomon-wise to describe a line drawn perpendicular to another. Later, the term was used for an L-shaped instrument like a steel square used to draw right angles. This shape may explain its use to describe a shape formed by cutting a smaller square from a larger one. Euclid extended the term to the plane figure formed by removing a similar parallelogram from a corner of a larger parallelogram. Indeed, the gnomon is the increment between two successive figurate numbers, including square and triangular numbers. The ancient Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria defined a gnomon as that which, when added to an entity (number or shape), makes a new entity similar to the starting entity. In this sense Theon of Smyrna used it to describe a number which added to a polygonal number produces the next one of the same type. The most common use in this sense is an odd integer especially when seen as a figurate number between square numbers.

• Isn't that also the name of the part of a sundial that casts a shadow? If it is, I can see now why it's appropriate! Commented Nov 30, 2017 at 5:13

It's a gnomon. Euclid used it often. Here's an example from Book II, Proposition 6:

I usually call it "an L-shape". Most people would understand that, I think, and in the end that's what terminology is for: Not for discussing what's right and wrong to say, but for making yourself understood. Is that the actual word for it? I don't know. Does it really matter? I don't think so. If you feel uncertain, call it an L-shape, and give a brief description like you did here, or a drawing / figure, and you should be in the clear.

• I just have this vague recollection of hearing that the ancient Greeks had a name for this shape. I'll update the question to be more specific about this. Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 13:55
• An L shape includes any rectangle with a rectangle taken out of a corner. In fact it implies its not a square. Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 20:05
• @Harrichael I agree that it doesn't imply squares. I do not agree that it implies not squares. Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 21:18

The name of the shape is a metaphorical name. In simple terms, a metaphorical shape is something that has its name from a really similar object in observable universe. Other examples being "Bell shaped curve", "cone", etc.