I saw that the word "mode" means "popular" in French, and I was wondering if this might be the etymology of the "mode" of a population in stat?

I was wondering if anyone had sources for early use of the term?


2 Answers 2


According to this article (in Italian) by Maurizio Codogno, the origin is in an article by Pearson dated 1895 (Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution. II. Skew Variation in Homogeneous Material).

In fact, in the article by Pearson you can find the following note on page 2:

I have found it convenient to use the term mode for the abscissa corresponding to the ordinate of maximum frequency. Thus the “mean,” the “mode,” and the “median” have all distinct characters important to the statistician.

Codogno further speculates that Pearson might have known the French expression "à la mode" (i.e. fashionable), so that its usage for representing the most "fashionable" value in a distribution is particularly apt. Also, it might have helped (both for Pearson to select it and for the term to gain widespread usage) the fact that the word started with "m" (like mean and median).

It is for sure a very nice term (from which also unimodal, bimodal, ... come from)!


The Oxford English Dictionary divides its definitions of the noun mode into: "senses derived directly from the Latin" and "senses derived from French". The statistical meaning is listed in "senses derived from French".


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.