frac·​tal | \ ˈfrak-tᵊl How to pronounce fractal (audio) \

Definition of fractal

: any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size

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Other Words from fractal

fractal adjective

Did You Know?

This term was coined in 1975 to describe shapes that seem to exist at both the small-scale and large-scale levels in the same natural object. Fractals can be seen in snowflakes, in which the microscopic crystals that make up a flake look much like the flake itself. They can also be seen in tree bark and in broccoli buds. Coastlines often represent fractals as well, being highly uneven at both a large scale and a very small scale. Fractal geometry has been important in many fields, including astronomy, physical chemistry, and fluid mechanics. And even some artists are benefiting, creating beautiful and interesting abstract designs by means of fractals.

Examples of fractal in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The news, like a fractal, repeats this betrayal of good intentions on every scale. Greg Jackson, Harper's magazine, "Vicious Cycles," 6 Jan. 2020 Nearby, a Grecian bust is caught, mid-scream; a fractal seems to turn; the cat’s eyes appear to widen. Washington Post, "At the Hirshhorn, a showcase of recent acquisitions takes the temperature of the art world," 24 Dec. 2019 Meander, Spiral, Explode is a playful, insightful taxonomy of narratives that while seeming to defy categorization, in fact take their innovative structures from patterns found in nature: fractals, cells, wavelets, and more. The Atlantic, "The 15 Best Books of 2019," 24 Dec. 2019 And the most appealing of these might be the fractal what-ifs: What got left behind? Wired, "Padmé Amidala, Queen of Empty Space," 18 Nov. 2019 Just south of downtown at Believe Music Hall, lasers scatter into fractals and reflect off stained glass windows as bass reverberates from the vaulted cathedral ceiling. Katey Ceccarelli, Billboard, "Where to Dance In: Atlanta," 29 Oct. 2019 But now physicists have been finding essentially the same cascading, fractal-like universal scaling phenomenon in far-from-equilibrium dynamics. Quanta Magazine, "The Universal Law That Aims Time’s Arrow," 1 Aug. 2019 Absent flame or smoke, stained glass explodes in silence, fractal scales of angel damsel rainbow parrot. Barbara Kingsolver, Time, "Read ‘Great Barrier,’ Barbara Kingsolver’s Wrenching Ode to Our Planet," 12 Sep. 2019 Long tiers of candles burned around the piano, light poured in a velvety haze from the ceiling, and fractals purled and oozed on a screen at the back of the stage. Dan Piepenbring, The New Yorker, "The Book of Prince," 2 Sep. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'fractal.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of fractal

1975, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for fractal

borrowed from French fractal (adjective), fractale (noun), from Latin frāctus (past participle of frangere "to break, shatter") + French -al -al entry 1, -ale -al entry 2 — more at break entry 1

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Learn More about fractal

Time Traveler for fractal

Time Traveler

The first known use of fractal was in 1975

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Statistics for fractal

Last Updated

18 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Fractal.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 20 January 2020.

More from Merriam-Webster on fractal

Britannica English: Translation of fractal for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about fractal

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