On the plane to India I read a NYRB article on the history of trade (in goods and ideas) between India and China by Amartya Sen. In a footnote he answered a question which I’d long wondered about but never bothered to investigate: What is the origin of the term Mandarin”?

The term Mandarin,” from the Sanskrit word mantri, or special advisor (the Indian prime minister is still called pradhan mantri, or principal adviser), came much later, via Malaya.

Sen also provides this history of the term sine”:

An interesting example of the transmission of mathematical dieas and terms can be seen in the origin of the trigonometric term sine.” In his Sanksrit mathematical treatise completed in 499 AD, Aryabhata used jya-ardha (Sankscrit for chord half”), shortened later into jya, for what we now call sine.” Arab mathematicians in the eighth century transliterated the Sanskrit word jya into the proximate sound of jiba and then later changed it into jaib (with the same consonants as jiba), which is a good Arabic word, meaning a bay or a cove, and it was this word that was later translated by Gherardo of Cremona (circa 1150) into its equivalent Latin word for a bay or a cove, viz., sinus, from which the modern term sine” is derived.

He then goes on to say that it was the earlier term, jya, which was translated into Chinese as ming. (Unfortunately, lacking a Chinese-enabled computer I can’t look up the character, but I’ll try to add it later.)