General Question

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

Why do we say "zeroth" instead of, say, "zeroic" for the ordinal number corresponding to zero?

Asked by JeSuisRickSpringfield (6714points) September 18th, 2016

I know that “zeroth” is a coined term, but I was wondering if there was any principled reason for using the ”-th” suffix instead of something unique (as we do for “first,” “second,” and “third”).

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17 Answers

stanleybmanly's avatar

because it works pronunciation-wise.

Pandora's avatar

We have fourth, fifth, sixth, why not zeroth. However, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of it.

imrainmaker's avatar

Why do you think zeroic should be better?

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

Since zero is nothing, I don’t see how there is an instance number 0 in a sequence.

ragingloli's avatar

Because someone, at some time, decided to do it like that, and it stuck.

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

The term exists outside this thread? I never heard it before.

Sneki95's avatar

Because of the analogy

As @Pandora stated, we have fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, and so on. The only numbers that don’t end with -th are the first, second and third. So, every “new” cardinal number is adjusted to the most common way of derivation. (zero is definitely a newer number than the rest. It was discovered way later)

and first three numbers have their own forms in other languages too, not just in English.

Sneki95's avatar


the suffix -ic means of, relating to, or resembling: and makes an adjective: compare heroic, romantic, Slavic etc.

Zeroic would mean “characterized by zero” or “like a zero”. It is an adjective, not an ordinal number.

And zero may not be discovered later, scratch that.

I hope I explained everything now.

zenvelo's avatar

Who are the “we” Frenchman @JeSuisRickSpringfield ?

I have never heard of zeroth before, even if it is zeroing, it makes zero sense to have an ordinal for zero. And negative numbers don’t have ordinals either..

There is no need for something that has a zero place in an order. If someone is telling you that, they are making stuff up and you should not believe them.

Sneki95's avatar

@zenvelo I wondered that as well for a second, but I wasn’t sure, so I went along with analyzing it as a word.

imrainmaker's avatar

You mean this doesn’t exist? Just Google it..

zeroth -
immediately preceding what is regarded as first in a series.

zenvelo's avatar

@imrainmaker I apreciate your finding tt on Google, but that has an inherent contradiction. If it is ahead of what is thought first, it is really first, and the other is now second.

If there is a zeroth place, then one skips it when doling out candy or letting in the door or seeing who wins the race. And zeroth is not in the order at all. Might as well be last.

stanleybmanly's avatar

It is just following in the tradition of the language as applied to mathematics. For example if you want to raise a number to the zeroth power or express the zeroth root.

Soubresaut's avatar

I can imagine where “zeroth” could make sense. For example, dealing out cards—dealing to the first hand, the second hand, the third hand, etc… then, I imagine, the deck would be the “zeroth hand” (or zeroth place in the sequence, what is “immediately preceding what is regarded as first in a series.”) The person to the left of the dealer wouldn’t suddenly have the second hand—the deck would just have the zeroth hand. Or, take, for another example, a staircase: the zeroth step would be the ground before the first step. The first step is still the first step—it is still the first time a person steps onto the staircase—but the ground would be a sort of null-step, the zeroth step, what immediately precedes the first step.

zenvelo's avatar

@Soubresaut But it isn’t a step! It is the ground. It has none of the attributes of what makes a step a step!

Pandora's avatar

@zenvelo I was wondering the same thing. I think if I ever heard of zeroth , it never took because to me zero means zero. Nothing, nil ,nada. Zero is just a place holder for nothing. Outside of math, and computers, zero has no value physical value . It’s why it is just zero. You can’t say, the boy came in zeroth place in the race. He would be last. Or never had raced in the first place.

Sneki95's avatar

According to this “zeroth” is supposed to be something of a highest value, even higher than #1.

It is also used in thermodynamics in somewhat different meaning, and in some dictionaries, it is simply defined as “before the first”.

So, yeah, it is a thing.

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