23 November 2008

Etymology of "theorem"

Is there some connection between the etymology of "theorem" and words like "theology" or "theist"?

For "theorem" the OED says: theorem, from the late Latin theorema, from the Greek θεωρημα, spectacle, speculation, theory, (in Euclid) a proposition to be proved, from θεωρειν to be a spectator (θεωροσ), to look at, inspect. (This isn't an exact quote; I've expanded some of the abbreviations, and suppressed some of the accent marks. But if you're the sort of person who could actually answer my question you probably already knew that.)

But for the words where "the-" or "theo-" is god-related, of which there are a lot, it just says things like "from Greek θεοσ, God" and doesn't go any further. And maybe you could imagine that people "look at" or "inspect" God. Of course I recognize that the OED is not the best possible source for these things -- but I'm suspecting that someone in my audience has also noticed this apparent coincidence of words and knows the answer.

(I just want to reiterate that the title "God Plays Dice" is not a religious thing; it's alluding to the quote of Einstein, as I've written before.)


Eugene van der Pijll said...

There are two different Proto-Indo-European roots here: dheie-, to look, watch, and dhes-, holy, divine.

The first evolved into Greek theaomai, "to watch", thea, "spectacle", and theatron, "theater". Together with orao "to look": thea-oros > theoros, "spectacle watcher"; and theorema, "performance", theoria, "attendance at a spectacle".

The other became thesos > theos, god, and thea, goddess.

So theorem and theory are related to theater, but not to god.

Anonymous said...

They're not related. Look at the Greek again: one of the letters that gets transliterated as 'o' is an omega, and the other is an omicron.

Michael Lugo said...


that's interesting, because I remembered that "e" could be a transliteration of epsilon or of eta, but totally forgot that there were two letters that transliterate to "o".

r. r. vlorbik said...

a collection of theorems
is of course a "theory",
just as a collection of strategems
is a "strategy".

other examples?

Eugene van der Pijll said...


That's because the Greek suffixes -ma and -ia after a verb root have specific meanings: -ma is "something specific that is being VERBed", and "-ia" means "VERBing in general".

For example: "strategeo", to lead in war; "strategema", ruse; "strategia", the 'art of war'.

I've looked for similar duos in an English dictionary, and haven't found anything better than categorem, a word that can be used by itself; category: a collection of things together.

By the way, from the same page in my Greek dictionary as "strategeo": "stochazomai", to guess, to aim; "stochasma", javelin.