The term spline comes from the flexible spline devices used by shipbuilders and draftsmen to draw smooth shapes. It also is an acronym for "Smooth Polynomial Lines Interpolating Numerical Estimates".
The term "spline" is used to refer to a wide class of functions that are used in applications requiring data interpolation and/or smoothing. The data may be either one-dimensional or multi-dimensional. Spline functions for interpolation are normally determined as the minimizers of suitable measures of roughness (for example integral squared curvature) subject to the interpolation constraints. Smoothing splines may be viewed as generalizations of interpolation splines where the functions are determined to minimize a weighted combination of the average squared approximation error over observed data and the roughness measure. For a number of meaningful definitions of the roughness measure, the spline functions are found to be finite dimensional in nature, which is the primary reason for their utility in computations and representation. For the rest of this section, we focus entirely on one-dimensional, polynomial splines and use the term "spline" in this restricted sense.