I am wondering why, sometimes, we have two different names for the same shape (for example, oblong and rectangle or oval and ellipse)?

Is there one which is preferred over the other? Do they have subtly different definitions? And are there any more examples of this?

  • $\begingroup$ The english language also has pig, pork, and swine for essentially a single concept $\endgroup$ – Hagen von Eitzen Jul 17 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe one's from the Latin, the other, Anglo-Saxon. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 17 at 12:00

Oblong and oval are rough descriptive terms you would use in everyday life or when talking about art forms, or describing (parts of) or organisms or other natural objects. Rectangle and ellipse are strict geometric terms. A rectangle doesn't have to be oblong: a square is also a rectangle. Likewise, a circle is an ellipse, although it is not oval.

Moreover, "oblong" means elongated, and can describe any form that has a clearly greater extent in one dimension than the other(s); not only a rectangle. Cucumbers are oblong, and so are Norway, Sumatra, and Giewont; none of them is rectangular. "Oval", from Latin "ovum" = "egg", literally means egg-shaped, and eggs are not strictly elliptical; they have one end more pointed than the other.

Hope this helps.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I would add that there are some strictcly defined geometric structures that are named ovals (for example, Cassini's ovals) taht are not ellipses. Actualy, some of them are not even ovals in traditional sense. $\endgroup$ – Adam Latosiński Jul 17 at 11:51

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