This word, used at least twice in Wired’s “What Kind of Genius Are You?” is not one I have seen before. Or, at least, I don’t remember seeing it. What does it mean?
It appears to be a math term, which is understandable since the article is on an economics prof who does lots of statistical analysis.
On a graph, a curve which is approached but never reached.
Encarta says this:
asÂ·ympÂ·tote (plural asÂ·ympÂ·totes) noun
line not touched by curve: a line that draws increasingly nearer to a curve without ever meeting it
[Mid-17th century. Via modern Latin < Greek asumptÅtos "not adapted to fall together" < sun- "together" + ptÅtos "adapted to fall"] asÂ·ympÂ·totÂ·ic adj asÂ·ympÂ·totÂ·iÂ·calÂ·ly adv
Asymptote. The math term for “reach for the stars.”
Used in the article in these contexts:
“Yet Galenson, whose parents were both economists, pushes on, ever approaching the asymptote.”
“Experimentalists never know when their work is finished. As one critic wrote of CÃ©zanne, the realization of his goal ‘was an asymptote toward which he was forever approaching without ever quite reaching.'”