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ANAHITA Home

ANAHITA  December 1998

ANAHITA December 1998

Subject:

(Fwd) Quincunx

From:

Peter Riedlberger <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sun, 27 Dec 1998 09:45:14 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (121 lines)

Three months ago (I'm sorry), a question was posted to list. Don
wanted to know why there was a *special* word just for denoting this
shape:

*    *
   *
*   *

I hadn't the time to reply earlier, and to be honest, I forget it
eventually. But Christmas gives time to think, and here is my reply.

I'll put in the original question right here for those who do not
remember:

>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: Quincunx
>From: Don Walter <[log in to unmask]>
>Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 15:09:22 -0700
>Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
>Reply-To: Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>
>Sender: Women and Gender in the Ancient World <[log in to unmask]>

>----------------------------------------------------------------------
----------

>Why is this word?  Webster has 1. an arrangement of five things with
>one at each corner and one in the middle of a square. 2. Astrol. The
>position of bodies distant from each other five signs, or 150 degrees.
>3. Bot. A quincuncial arrangement, as of the parts of a flower in
>estivation. 4. Hort. An arrangement, esp. of trees, with one at each
>corner and one at the center of a square. 5. Rom. Antiq. A weight of
>five unciae, or five twelfths of a libra; hence, a coin of this
>weight.

>OED 1 has about the same, with a supposed derivation that a coin of
>this weight may have been marked by dots in the corners-&-center
>arrangement.

>But this all seems to me post hoc: why was a word reserved for any of
>these not very important notions?  I have the impression that there
>might be something in the arrangement of some sacred grove in the
>corners-&-center way, which made it worth commemorating in a whole
>word or its own.  Is this merely my own foolish impression?  Is there
>any other information, etymological, astrologica, or whatever, to
>which this list might refer me?

>My curiosity was roused by the use of the same word by Francis Galton
>(inventor of correlation, regression, and eugenics), who used it to
>describe a little device which illustrates the Central Limit Theorem
>of statistics, and has an arrangementof pegs which extends the
>horticultural meaning of the word.  Galton presumably got it from
>orchardists.  But where and why did the word originally become
>important?

>Don Walter

Dear Don,

you posted a question about quincunx quite a time ago to the Anahita
list. Sorry for not responding earlier, but it seems that I have now
the definite answer.

You asked why there is a *special* word quincunx only for the
following shape:

*     *
   *
*     *


Well, the point is that quincunx wasn't invented for that shape.
Quincunx is regular Latin formation for denoting a fraction of
weight. Those -unx formations are always relative to the libra
(pound). So we have deunx (11/12 pound), septunx (7/12 pound),
quincunx (5/12 pound). There is, e. g., no "sexunx" because 6/12 = 1/2=
semis, and, e. g., no "quadrunx" since 4/12=1/3=Triens.

Now, when you indicated a weight, you used symbols like this:

uncia (1/12)                          .

sextans (2/12)                       :

quadrans (3/12)                     :  .    (sorry, the single dot should
be at a higher level)

triens (4/12)                          : :

quincunx (5/12)                    : : .  (same sorry like above)


Of course, you could put the 5th dot right in the middle of the four
others, and then you had your quincunx symbol. That could then be
employed *just* for its shape, since it is quite a convient way of
denoting this arrangement (today, we have to say: it is like the
"five" on a dice - quincunx would be easier).

----------------------------------
Peter Riedlberger
Winibaldstr. 36
82515 Wolfratshausen
Germany
Telephone: 49-8171-76376
Fax: 49-8171-489622
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
WWW: www.Riedlberger.de

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