See, for example «Loi normale,» the French version of “Normal distribution” on Wikipedia.

“The cards are dealt.” «Les cartes sont distribuées

I realize that's “the way it is” in all extant academic mathematical literature in the French language, but the idiom of playing cards being laid down on the table as “law” -- in any way, shape, or form or manner of speaking -- is so offensive to me as to completely rule out any polite discourse on the subject.

«Une distribution» is a perfectly valid and decent French word.

«La distribution normale» would be a fine way to describe in French what is called “the normal distribution” in English. The mathematical language of the dealing of a deck of cards ought not to be conflated with that of legislation, civil suits, or crime and punishment under any circumstances.

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    As a scientist with experience in Russian, English and French, I would say that the use of such terms is idiosyncratic. E.g., the use of power in exponent doesn't make any sense to me, just like Russian degree is nonsensical in English in this context. Apr 18, 2021 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


Notice that "scientific law" has a precise definition, which isn't related to law : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_law

I agree with you that it's surprising to use the term in mathematics/statistics, but it seems to be used in several occasions, such as the "law of large numbers". I think this is acceptable in the sense of scientific law, i.e. which was discovered through experimentation.

And this definition of "scientific law" is a different concept than the "legal law".

  • The "law" in English or any Germanic or Romance language being essentially by definition "that which is laid down" -- even if it is mathematically in sense of vice as a dealer laying down cards on the table. Dec 9, 2021 at 7:08

There is nothing specific with this usage in French. For example, demand and offer law or law of thermodynamics have no relationship with crime and punishment either.


6 a: a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions
  // a law of thermodynamics
  // Boyle's law
b: a general relation proved or assumed to hold between mathematical or logical expressions

Same in Spanish:


  1. f. Cada una de las relaciones existentes entre los diversos elementos que intervienen en un fenómeno.

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