Why does ‘X’ Mark the Unknown?

For centuries we have associated the letter ‘X’ with ‘something’ that is unknown  a ‘thing’ that cannot be named because it has not yet been discovered. The letter ‘X’ has leaked from its origin of representing an unknown quantity in mathematical equations to making shows, movies, and other pop cultural things sound cool and mysterious like: The X Factor, The X- Files, Mr. X, TEDx, just to name a few. We have learned to use it whenever we need to fill a blank. Thanks math!

But why does ‘X’ represent the unknown?

The director of the Radius Foundation, Terry Moore, claims to know the answer to this question. In his 2012 TED talk titled, “Why is ‘X’ the unknown?”,  he suggests a probable answer that has everything to do with being lost in translation and pronunciation around the 11th or 12th century, and nothing to do with the precision of mathematical equations. So without further ado, take a look at the short but sweet video explaining the reason for how ‘X’ came to mark the unknown, according to Terry Moore:


picture credits: Roman Mager via unsplash.com

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About Anita Matkovic

Anita has a degree in Transcultural Communication from the University of Vienna. She spends her time translating, teaching English, and proofreading. She is a language enthusiast with a chronic case of wanderlust.

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