Let us suppose one has a sentence : I want to find number of digits in the number. Do one allowed to change first occurrence of the word number to the word quantum? So that the new sentence would be : I want to find quantum of digits in the number. I am interested to find the answer because I am writing a program which will be able to find prime number with the specified number of digits and it seems for me to be really graceless to say number of digits in the number.

  • Rather than talking about wanting to find [the] number of digits in a number, it would be much better to just count the digits in a number. – FumbleFingers Mar 23 '17 at 16:27
  • @FumbleFingers, but my program does not count number of digits. It would be misleading for the program to say count number of digits. – some1 here Mar 23 '17 at 16:28
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    I see your point. But your context is a fairly unusual one, since presumably the second instance of "the number" refers to a value stored in binary anyway, so the number of decimal digits doesn't really "exist" in order to be counted anyway. Perhaps you'd do better using something more appropriate from the program's point of view, such as establish / compute / calculate the number of [decimal] digits in the number. I wouldn't bother with things like quantum / quantify though - they're a bit geeky. – FumbleFingers Mar 23 '17 at 16:39

"Quantum" is a technical term in physics to refer to the smallest possible unit of energy. "Quantum physics" refers to the theory that there is such a thing as a "smallest possible unit of energy", as opposed to "classical physics" which assumed that you could always divide any amount of energy, that if I can push with 10 units of force, then if I pushed half that hard it would be 5 units of force, etc, and there is no "smallest possible amount". Just like atomic theory says that there is a smallest amount of some substance you can have, and that if you tried to divide it in half, you wouldn't have that substance any more. Like if you divided one atom of sodium, what you have is not two smaller pieces of sodium, but something else.

My dictionary says that "quantum" can mean a quantity or amount, but I don't recall ever hearing the word used to mean that. Maybe that's a usage from some other technical field, or maybe it's just obsolete.

  • Quantum physics assumes that only certain "states" are possible, and that there is not a continuum of intermediate "states" between those states. A "quantum" is the difference between two possible states. The states can involve "spin", "charge", "energy", or quark "color", not just "energy". – Jasper Mar 23 '17 at 20:00
  • @jasper Yes, I suppose my wording does not make clear that we are talking about a "packet size", everything must be a multiple of that size, not that any value greater than the minimum is possible. Certainly true that charge, color, etc, have a finite set of possible states, I'd never heard those described as quantums (or quanta), I'll abstain on any discussion on that point. – Jay Mar 24 '17 at 13:16

As stangdon mentions, the general-use definition of the noun "quantum" is no longer common:

quantum (plural: quanta) : 1) quantity, amount 2) portion, part

Much more common is the use of "quantum" as an adjective, either to refer to advanced physics, or to make something sound really "cool" and "science-y" -- for example, a company called "Quantum Data Storage", which is actually just a traditional data repository that has nothing to do with quantum mechanics or quantum computing.

So as others have said, I would not use "quantum" (or "quanta") for anything other than actual physics.

  • I agree, though there is a connection with the data storage thing. A friend got his PhD in Quantum Field Theory for his career in.... hard disk storage technology. – Stew C Mar 23 '17 at 18:47
  • It makes sense if you have to understand quantum mechanics in order to figure out how to pack more 0s and 1s onto a magnetic disk, but I don't think that's what this company does. – Andrew Mar 23 '17 at 19:33
  • It did originally though, when the name was chosen. This from wikipedia: "From its founding in 1980 until 2001, it was also a major disk storage manufacturer (usually second-place in market share behind Seagate), and was based in Milpitas, California. Quantum sold its hard disk drive business to Maxtor in 2001." – Stew C Mar 26 '17 at 19:58

Yes, it is a little weird. To fix it, replace one of the "number" instances with something else which will also add clarity. For example,

"I want to find how many digits the number has."

"...how many digits are in the number."

"...the number's order of magnitude."


Quantum is a word with multiple meanings. Why posters have chosen not to answer this question, but to instead discuss how the term applies to physics, is beyond me. It doesn't matter how a word is commonly used. What matters is the words etymology, its definition, and its form. Specifically for coding, which is what this questions scope is intended to address, if your program understands what you mean by quantum, and runs properly, it doesn't matter if it's a clunky sentence

  • That's not how words work, and that's not how programming works: sensible programmers make sure they use meaningful terminology in order to communicate with other humans through the program source. (The fact that the computer doesn't know the semantics of any English word is true, but generally unhelpful and irrelevant even for coding, and doubly so on a site about English learning.) – Nathan Tuggy Feb 17 '18 at 16:15

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