- 1975, from French fractal, from Latin fractus "interrupted, irregular," literally "broken," past participle of frangere "to break" (see fraction). Coined by French mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot in "Les Objets Fractals."
Many important spatial patterns of Nature are either irregular or fragmented to such an extreme degree that ... classical geometry ... is hardly of any help in describing their form. ... I hope to show that it is possible in many cases to remedy this absence of geometric representation by using a family of shapes I propose to call fractals -- or fractal sets. [Mandelbrot, "Fractals," 1977]