Quads and Squads

By Mark Nichol

A family of words ultimately derived from the Latin noun quadrus, meaning “a square,” pertain one way or the other to the number four. Here are those words, more or less common in English usage, and their definitions.

The most versatile, and most ubiquitous, of these terms is square, which refers to a shape with four equal sides and right angles; an area, structure, or formation in the shape of a square; a tool used to lay out or test right angles; the product of a number multiplied by itself; a conventional person; a meal as one of three traditional full meals served or eaten in the course of a day; an adjective meaning “fair” or “honest,” or “old-fashioned”; an adverb pertaining to those senses; and a verb meaning “cut square,” “regulate,” or “accord.”

The other words, and their definitions, follow:

escadrille: a unit of French aircraft equivalent to a squadron
quadrangle: an enclosure surrounded by buildings, or the building itself, or an area represented by one of a set of maps (abbreviated quad); also, synonymous with quadrilateral
quadrant: one quarter of a circle or other regular or nearly regular shape; also, a device for measuring altitude
quadraphonic: pertaining to four channels of sound
quadrat: a rectangular plot of land specified for study
quadrate: square or almost square; a specific type of cross in heraldry; a bone in the skull of birds and lizards; an adjective meaning “square” or “nearly square”; also, another word for quadratus (see below)
quadratic: referring to the use of squaring, or raising to the second power, in mathematics
quadratus: any of various roughly quadrilateral muscles
quadrennial: lasting four years or occurring every four years
quadricentennial: a four-hundred-year anniversary
quadriceps: a set of four leg muscles
quadrifid: divided into four parts (said of leaves, for example)
quadrilateral: a four-sided figure, including but not limited to squares and rectangles
quadrille: a square dance or a music for the dance; also, an equestrian exhibition involving four riders or groups of riders
quadrillion: the number represented with the numeral 1,000,000,000,000
quadripartite: consisting of four parts or shared by four parties
quadriplegic: a person paralyzed in all four limbs
quadrivium: the educational disciplines of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, which were taught after the trivium of grammar, logic, and rhetoric; the two groups constitute the classical seven liberal arts
quadroon: a person who is one-fourth black
quadruped: a four-legged animal
quadruple: increased fourfold, or consisting of four components, or, as a noun, something that is quadruple
quadruplet: one of four offspring born as a result of one pregnancy, or a combination of four of a kind
quadruplex: consisting of four parts, such as a four-unit apartment building; also, a telegraphic system allowing two messages to be sent simultaneously in each direction
quadruplicate: multiply by four, or consisting of four parts
quod: British English slang for prison, perhaps from quadrangle, derived from the shape of a typical prison
squad: a unit of military personnel or athletes, or a group of people with a specific task
squadron: a unit of aircraft, of cavalry, or of navy vessels

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8 Responses to “Quads and Squads”

  • Jack Applin

    > quadrillion: the number represented with the numeral 1,000,000,000,000

    Surely, that’s a trillion. A quadrillion has three more zeroes. Even in the old British system, a quadrillion has twenty-four zeroes.

  • venqax

    Yes. One quadrillion is a 1 followed by fifteen zeros, not twelve. The numeral depicted is one trillion. You can’t be good at English and math; it’s simply unnatural.

  • venqax

    A note about this: A quadrant or a quarter IS one of four parts. I hear people talking about how they have divided things into “five quadrants” or referring to the “fifth quarter” of something a lot, even among academics, as if quadrant and quarter simply mean any unit of division. Stop it!

    OTOH… The quad (also a common university term), albeit short for quadrangle, does NOT need to be a four-sided area. While that reflects the etymology of the term, it has been used to mean an enclosed space of pretty much any shape or number sides for a very long time. The original “quad” may not even have had fours sides. Ah, language.

  • Agua Caliente

    In New England (certainly in the Boston area, at least), it is not uncommon for a town or a part of a city to have a location called a “square” that is not at all square-like—no quadrangles to be seen.

    As for having more than four quarters, sometimes “the fifth quarter” is in terms of post-football game TV/Radio show. It’s figurative, not literal, like the “19th hole” in golf.

  • venqax

    Good point re town squares. As for the fifth quarters, I wasn’t thinking of the game-related usage, but I suspect that 9 out of 10 people who use the term are not doing so figuratively. I’d bet real money that they are using it the same way they would refer to an 8th inning in baseball, or an additional period in games so measured. I’d be shocked if the meaning of the term *quarter* crossed their minds and they thought, “I’ll be figurative.” LOL.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I have never heard of a “square meal” or a “square” for short, being referred to in the way described. A square meal is a nutritious one containing sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, quality fats, and the less obvious things like vitamins, minerals, and roughage. (Four things.) You can live well off of three of three of these per day.
    Another way of looking at it is that a square meal has sufficient amounts of starches, meat or meat substitutes like peanut butter, vegetables, and fruits.

  • Dale A. Wood

    People like prisoners might not get three of the above per day. They might be fed one square meal per day, plus two meals of bread and water; or worse, one square meal, plus one of watery pumpkin soup, and one of sawdust: or worse, one square meal, plus one of sawdust, and one of sand.
    Diets like these were common among the prisoners under Nazi Germany or the Stalinist USSR, such as POWs, people in concentration camps or forced-labor camps, and “Zeks” in the gulag archipelago of Siberia.
    In Nazi POW camps, prisoners from the U.K., Canada, the U.S.A., Australia, and New Zealand were treated a lot better than the Poles, the Russians, the French, and the Slavs in general. Hitler truly despised the French and the Communists, and he despised the French for never surrendering and being on the winning side of World War I. To him, the Poles and most of the rest the Slavs simply got in the way. He took Czechoslovakia to get a better grip on the Poles, and he took Poland in order hit the communist Soviets.
    Along the way, Hitler gained allies in the Finns, Hungarians, Romanians, and Bulgarians, all of whom attacked the Soviets, too, in 1941.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A slight improvement/updating on something about squadrons:
    Squadron: a unit of aircraft, of cavalry, of navy vessels, or of tanks and other armored vehicles.
    There are squadrons and platoons of tanks, and this is a direct extension of those concepts in the horse cavalry. In the early decades of motorized, armored warfare, many the best of the cavalry officers went into the new armored units, and General George S. Patton was one of them. (On the other hand, Field Marshall Rommel had been a very good infantry officer.)
    Some of the cavalrymen went into the new air forces instead, and that lead to such things as aviators’ wearing spurs in World War I and Patton’s wearing spurs during World War II. Patton also insisted that his tankers wear neckties! (Nobody can see you in a tank – not like riding on the back of a big horse.)
    Nowadays, tank squadrons and tank platoons in the U.S. Army also contain Bradley Fighting Vehicles, self-propelled artillery, and armored MLVs (Multiple-rocket Launching Vehicles).
    The Soviet army did a similar thing with tanks plus armored amphibious personnel carriers (BMVs?). Anyway, it was a Russian acronym.

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