According to Duden asymmetrisch and unsymmetrisch are synonyms, but which one is preferable in a scientific context? What about other contexts?

Searching for the appropriate noun, I wonder why Duden knows Asymmetrie, but not Unsymmetrie - is the latter plainly wrong?


In a scientific (at least for the "hard" sciences) context: Definitely "asymmetrisch"

I think "unsymmetrisch" is rather new and as a construct a consequence from less familarity with greek, but that is my personal theory.

  • Reading the Wikipedia article about Asymmetrie there seem to be differences in some contexts. I'll leave that question open for a while, let's see if some other answer come around. Do you have any source? Thanks for now! Jan 15 '16 at 8:15
  • wikipedia seems to be in an internal struggle there, for example the article "Asymmetrie" has a link to "unsymmetrische Signalübertragung" which redirects to "asymmetrische Signalübertragung". As for source: More than a decade of reading scientific literature
    – Bort
    Jan 15 '16 at 13:59

I don't think this is so much a German question as a math question. In English, the word "asymmetrical" is a special kind of symmetry where the polarity changes when you flip it about the axis. "Unsymmetrical" would simply indicate a lack of symmetry altogether.

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Here is an example that shows how these concepts are applied in quantum mechanics. We want to write the wave function of an electron concentrated in the left side of a double well. We can write this as the sum of the symmetrical case plus the antisymmetric case. When we add the two togther, the portions in the right hand well cancel out and the wave is found all on the left hand side. That is an unsymmetrical (or non-symmetrical) situation.

We do this in physics because the symmetrical and the asymmetrical cases have especially simple mathematical descriptions. So the non-symmetrical case is most easily analyzed as the sum of the two special cases. This particular problem occurs when we ask the question: how long does it take for an electron in the left hand side to move entirely to the right hand side (a typical "tunneling" question).

  • 7
    note that "asymmetric/-isch" and "antisymmetric/-isch" are COMPLETELY different things
    – Bort
    Jan 14 '16 at 18:00
  • OMG you're right, I completely missed that! Jan 14 '16 at 18:02
  • why do you not delete an answer that is completely wrong?
    – miracle173
    Jan 17 '16 at 0:04
  • Probably because I suffer from a low-level personality disorder which causes me to believe that my random musings are of great interest to the world at large. In particular, even though my answer is technically wrong, I still think it adds some valuable context to the discussion. Then again, that's probably the personality disorder speaking. Jan 17 '16 at 0:12

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