George Kingsley Zipf was not a mathematician, but his work in linguistics gave rise to what we call Zipf's Law
or Zipf's Curve
-- a statistical distribution that is also known as the Rank-Size Rule
. While countless applications have been found for this distribution it has had the greatest impact in text compression
, internet caching
, and population studies.
Zipf was born in Germany and went on to become a professor at Harvard University. He also devised The Principle of Least Effort, which states that, "a person…will strive to solve his problems in such a way as to minimize the total work that he must expend in solving both his immediate problems and his probable future problems." His fanatical adherence to this idea -- along with some of his political views regarding Hitler's Germany -- gained him a reputation as eccentric (if not an outright crackpot). Zipf died of natural causes in 1950.
Books by George Kingsley Zipf
- Selective Studies and the Principle of Relative Frequency in Language (1932)
- The Psycho-Biology of Languages (1935)
- The Generalized Harmonic Series as a Fundamental Principle of Social Organization(1940)
- On the Economical Arrangement of Tools; The Harmonic Series and the Properties of Space(1940)
- National Unity and Disunity; The Nation as a Bio-social
- Human Behavior and the Principle of Least Effort (1949)