# Zenzizenzizenzic

Pronounced /'zɛnziːzɛnziːzɛnzik/

*Zenzizenzizenzic* is the eighth power of a number. It’s long obsolete, so much so that the *Oxford English Dictionary* only has one citation for it, from a famous work by the Welsh-born mathematician Robert Recorde, *The Whetstone of Wit*, published in 1557. It turns up from time to time as one of those weird words which is best known for being held up as an example of a weird word.

The root word, also obsolete, is *zenzic*. This was borrowed from German (the Germans were very big in algebra in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries). They got it from the medieval Italian word *censo*, which is a close relative of the Latin *census*. The Italians (who were big in algebra even earlier) used *censo* to translate the Arabic word *mál*, literally “possessions; property”, which was the usual word in that language for the square of a number. This came about because the Arabs, like most mathematicians of those and earlier times, thought of a squared number as a depiction of an area, especially of land, hence property. So *censo*, and later our English *zenzic*, was for a while the word for a squared number.

Even by Robert Recorde’s time, there was no easy way of denoting the powers of numbers, a great hindrance to effective mathematics. The only term he had apart from the square was the cube, the third power of a number, and formulae were usually written out in words. Recorde, like his predecessors, represented a fourth power by the square of a square, *zenzizenzic*, which is just a condensed form of the Italian *censo di censo*, used by Leonardo of Pisa in his famous book *Liber Abaci* of 1202. An eighth power was by obvious extension *zenzizenzizenzic*. And similarly the sixth power was *zenzicube*, the square of a cube. None of these words survives in the language except as historical curiosities.