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Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols

These pages show the names of the individuals who first used various common mathematical
symbols, and the dates the symbols first appeared. The most important written source is the
definitive A History of Mathematical Notations by Florian Cajori.
Symbols of operation, including +, -, X, division, exponents, radical symbol, dot and vector product
Grouping symbols, including (), [], {}, vinculum
Symbols of relation, including =, >, <
Fractions, including decimals
Symbols for various constants, such as pi, i, e, 0
Symbols for variables
Symbols to represent various functions, such as log, ln, gamma, absolute value; also the f(x)
notation
Symbols used in geometry
Symbols used in trigonometry; also symbols for hyperbolic functions
Symbols used in calculus
Set notation and logic
Symbols used in number theory
Symbols used in statistics
Written sources for these pages
ADDITION AND SUBTRACTION SYMBOS
!lus "#$ and mi%us "&$'Nicole d' Oresme (1323-1382) may have used a figure which looks like a
plus symbol as an abbreviation for the Latin et (meaning "and") in Algorismus proportionum,
believed to have been written between 1356 and 1361. The symbol appears in a manuscript of this
work believed to have been written in the fourteenth century, but perhaps by a copyist and not
Oresme himself. The symbol appears, for example,
in the sentence: "Primi numeri sesquiterti sunt .4. et .
3., et primi numeri sev termini sesquialtere sunt .3. et
.2." [Dic Sonneveld].
The plus symbol as an abbreviation for the Latin et
(and), though appearing with the downward stroke
not quite vertical, was found in a manuscript dated
1417 (Cajori).
The + and - symbols first appeared in print in
Mercantile Arithmetic or Behende und hpsche
Rechenung auff allen Kauffmanschafft, by Johannes
Widmann (born c. 1460), published in Leipzig in
1489. However, they referred not to addition or
subtraction or to positive or negative numbers, but to
surpluses and deficits in business problems (Cajori
vol. 1, page 128).
(ere is a% ima)e of the first use i% *ri%t of the #
a%+ & si)%s, from Widman's Behennde nd hpsche
Rechnung! This image is taken from the Augsburg
edition of 1526.
Widman wrote, "Was - ist / das ist minus ... vnd das
+ das ist mer." He also wrote, "4 centner + 5 pfund"
and "5 centner - 17 pfund," thus showing the excess
or deficiency in the weight of boxes or bales (Smith
vol. 2, page 399).
Smith (vol. 2, page 398) explains the origin of the + sign by connecting it to the Latin word for "and":
n a manuscript of 1456, written in Germany, the word et is used for addition and is generally written
so that it closely resembles the symbol +. The et is also found in many other manuscripts, as in "5
et 7" for 5 + 7, written in the same contracted form, as when we write the ligature & rapidly. There
seems, therefore, little doubt that this sign is merely a ligature for et!
Cajori says, "There is clear evidence that, as a lecturer at the University of Leipzig, Widmann had
studied manuscripts in the Dresden library in which + and - signify operations, some of these having
been written as early as 1486." Johnson (page 144) says a series of notes from 1481, annotated by
Widmann, contain the + and - symbols, and he asks whether Widman could have copied these
symbols from some unknown professor at the University of Leipzig. Johnson also says that a
student's notes from one of Widmann's 1486 lectures show the + and - signs.
Giel Vander Hoecke used + and - as symbols of operation in "en sonderlinghe #oec$ in dye edel
conste Arithmetica, published at Antwerp in 1514 (Smith 1958, page 341). Burton (page 335) says
Vander Hoecke was the first person to use + and - in writing algebraic expressions, but Smith (page
341) says he followed Grammateus.
Henricus Grammateus (also known as Henricus Scriptor and Heinrich Schreyber or Schreiber)
published an arithmetic and algebra, entitled Ayn ne% Kunstlich Buech, printed in 1518, in which he
used + and - in a technical sense for addition and subtraction (Cajori vol. 1, page 131).
The plus and minus symbols only came into general use in England after they were used by Robert
Recorde in in 1557 in &he 'hetstone of 'itte! Recorde wrote, "There be other 2 signes in often use
of which the first is made thus + and betokeneth more: the other is thus made - and betokeneth
lesse."
The plus and minus symbols were in use before they appeared in print. For example, they were
painted on barrels to indicate whether or not the barrels were full. Some have attempted to trace the
minus symbol as far back as Heron and Diophantus.
MUTI!ICATION SYMBOS
- was used by William Oughtred (1574-1660) in the (lais Mathematicae (Key to Mathematics),
composed about 1628 and published in London in 1631 (Smith). Cajori calls X St. Andrew's Cross.
X actually appears earlier, in 1618 in an anonymous appendix to Edward Wright's translation of
John Napier's )escriptio (Cajori vol. 1, page 197). However, this appendix is believed to have been
written by Oughtred.
The raise+ +ot ".$ was advocated by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). According to Cajori
(vol. 1, page 267): The dot was introduced as a symbol for multiplication by G. W. Leibniz. On July
29, 1698, he wrote in a letter to John Bernoulli: " do not like X as a symbol for multiplication, as it is
easily confounded with x; ... often simply relate two quantities by an interposed dot and indicate
multiplication by *( +M! Hence, in designating ratio use not one point but two points, which use
at the same time for division."
The raised dot was used earlier by Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) in Analyticae ,raxis ad
Ae-uationes Alge#raicas Resolendas, which was published posthumously in 1631, and by
Thomas Gibson in 1655 in .yntaxis mathematica! However Cajori says, "it is doubtful whether
Harriot or Gibson meant these dots for multiplication. They are introduced without explanation. t is
much more probable that these dots, which were placed after numerical coefficients, are survivals
of the dots habitually used in old manuscripts and in early printed books to separate or mark off
numbers appearing in the running text" (Cajori vol. 1, page 268).
However, Scott (page 128) writes that Harriot was "in the habit of using the dot to denote
multiplication." And Eves (page 231) writes, "Although Harriot on occasion used the dot for
multiplication, this symbol was not prominently used until Leibniz adopted it."
The asteris/ "0$ was used by Johann Rahn (1622-1676) in 1659 in &eutsche Alge#ra (Cajori vol. 1,
page 211). By 1u2ta*ositio%' n a manuscript found buried in the earth near the village of
Bakhshali, ndia, and dating to the eighth, ninth, or tenth century, multiplication is normally indicated
by placing numbers side-by-side (Cajori vol. 1, page 78).
Multiplication by juxtaposition is also indicated in "some fifteenth-century manuscripts" (Cajori vol. 1,
page 250). Juxtaposition was used by al-Qalasadi in the fifteenth century (Cajori vol. 1, page 230).
According to Lucas, Michael Stifel (1487 or 1486 - 1567) first showed multiplication by juxtaposition
in 1544 in Arithmetica integra! n 1553, Michael Stifel brought out a revised edition of Rudolff's
(oss, in which he showed multiplication by juxtaposition and repeating a letter to designate powers
(Cajori vol. 1, pages 145-147).
DIVISION SYMBOS
Close *are%thesis' The arrangement 8)24 was used by Michael Stifel (1487-1567 or 1486-1567) in
Arithmetica integra, which was completed in 1540 and published in 1544 in Nuernberg (Cajori vol.
1, page 269; DSB).
The colo% "3$ was used in 1633 in a text entitled /ohnson Arithmeti$0 1n t%o Boo$es (2nd ed.:
London, 1633). However Johnson only used the symbol to indicate fractions (for example three-
fourths was written 3:4); he did not use the symbol for division "dissociated from the idea of a
fraction" (Cajori vol. 1, page 276). Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) used : for both ratio and
division in 1684 in the Acta eruditorum (Cajori vol. 1, page 295).
The obelus "4$ was first used as a
division symbol by Johann Rahn (or
Rhonius) (1622-1676) in 1659 in
&eutsche Alge#ra (Cajori vol. 2,
page 211). Here is the page in
which the division symbol first
appears in print, as reproduced in
Cajori.
Rahn's book was translated into
English and published, with
additions by John Pell, in London in
1668, with the division symbol
retained. According to some recent
sources, John Pell was a major
influence on Rahn and he may in
fact be responsible for the invention
of the symbol. However, according
to Cajori there is no evidence to
support this claim. The division
symbol was used by many writers
before Rahn as a minus sign.
Rece%t symbolism' n nineteenth
century U. S. textbooks, long
division is typically shown with the
divisor, dividend, and quotient on
the same line, separated by
parentheses, as 36)116(3. This
notation is used, for example, in
1866 in ,rimary "lements of Alge#ra for (ommon .chools and Academies by Joseph Ray.
n 1882 in (omplete 2raded Arithmetic by James B. Thomson, the 36)116(3 notation is used for
long division. However, in examples for short division, a vinculum is placed under the dividend and
the vinculum is almost attached to the bottom of the close parenthesis. The quotient is written under
the vinculum, as shown below.
From (omplete 2raded Arithmetic, 1882
The symbol is not mentioned by Cajori. An early use of this symbol is in 1888 in &he "lements
of Alge#ra by G. A. Wentworth. The symbol was seen in the teacher's edition but presumably is
also in the student edition. [ welcome earlier uses of this symbol that may be found by readers of
this page.]
n 1901, the second edition of Ro#inson3s (omplete Arithmetic by Daniel W. Fish uses the same
notations for short and long division as Thomson (1882) above, except that the vinculum under the
dividend is actually attached to the close parenthesis. This notation may appar in the earlier 1873
edition, which has not been seen.
David E. Smith writes, "t is impossible to fix an exact date for the origin of our present arrangement
of figures in long division, partly because it developed gradually" (Smith vol. 2).
E-!ONENTS
!ositi5e i%te)ers as e2*o%e%ts' Nicole Oresme (c. 1323-1382) used numbers to indicate
powering in the fourteenth century, although he did not use raised numbers. Nicolas Chuquet
(1445?-1500?) used raised numbers in +e &riparty en la .cience des Nom#res in 1484. However, in
Chuquet's notation, 12
3
actually meant 12x
3
(Cajori vol. 1, page 102).
n 1634, Pierre Hrigone (or Herigonus) (1580-1643) wrote a, a2, a3, etc., in (ursus mathematicus,
which was published in several volumes from 1634 to 1637; the numerals were not raised, however
(Cajori vol. 1, page 202, and Ball). n 1636 James Hume used Roman numerals as exponents in
+3Alg4#re de 5i4te d3ne methode noelle, claire, et 6acile! Cajori writes (vol. 1, pages 345-346): n
1636 James Hume brought out an edition of the algebra of Vieta, in which he introduced a superior
notation, writing down the base and elevating the exponent to a position above the regular line and
a little to the right. The exponent was expressed in Roman numerals. Thus, he wrote A
iii
for A
3
.
Except for the use of Roman numerals, one has here our modern notation. Thus, this Scotsman,
residing in Paris, had almost hit upon the exponential symbolism which has become universal
through the writings of Descartes.
n 1637 exponents in the modern notation (although with positive integers only) were used by Rene
Descartes (1596-1650) in 2eometrie! Descartes tended not to use 2 as an exponent, however,
usually writing aa rather than a
2
, perhaps because aa occupies no less space than a
2
. Descartes
wrote: "aa ou a
2
pour multiplier par soimme; et a
3
pour le multiplier encore une fois par a, et ainsi
l'infini" (Cajori 1919, page 178).
Ne)ati5e i%te)ers as e2*o%e%ts were used by Nicolas Chuquet (1445?-1500?) in 1484 in +e
&riparty en la .cience des Nom#res! Chuquet wrote to indicate 12x
-1
(Cajori vol. 1, page 102).
Negative integers as exponents were first used with the modern notation by saac Newton in June
1676 in a letter to Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society, in which he described his
discovery of the general binomial theorem twelve years earlier (Cajori 1919, page 178). Before
Newton, John Wallis suggested the use of negative exponents but did not actually use them (Cajori
vol. 1, page 216).
6ractio%s as e2*o%e%ts' The first use of fractional exponents (although not with the modern
notation) is by Nicole Oresme (c. 1323-1382) in Algorismus proportionum! Oresme used to
represent 9
1/3
. According to Cajori (1919), this notation remained unnoticed.
Simon Stevin (1548-1620) "had no occasion to use the fractional index notation," but "he clearly
stated that 1/2 in a circle would mean square root and 3/2 in a circle would indicate the square root
of the cube" (Boyer, page 356). John Wallis (1616-1703), in his Arithmetica infinitorum which was
published in 1656, speaks of fractional "indices" but does not actually write them (Cajori vol. 1, page
354). Fractional exponents in the modern notation were first used by saac Newton in the 1676
letter referred to above (Cajori 1919, page 178).
Scie%tific %otatio%' The earliest use of scientific notation is not known. However, some physicists
working with electricity in in the decade or so up to 1873, when our modern volt, ohm, etc., were
standardized, used scientific notation. James A. Landau has found only two usages of scientific
notation in Maxwell's collected papers, and could find no other physicists of mid-century using
scientific notation. n 1863, in &he Annual "ncyclopedia and Register of 1mportant "ents of the
7ear 89:; the article on "Electricity" has on page 404:
The aim should be to make this standard [of electrical resistance] correspond to a current
force equal to 10,000,000,000 times the value given by the quotient of 1 metre by 1
second of time, that is, 10
10
mtre/seconds.
n 1868 Rep! Brit! Assoc! 89:< has: 10
5
EMF, acting on a circuit of 10
13
, will pass in one second 10
-8
absolute units of quantity; and similarly, 10
5
EMF will charge a condenser of absolute capacity equal
to 10
-13
absolute units with 10
-8
absolute units of quantity... Mr. Clark calls the unit of quantity thus
defined (10
-8
) one Farad, and similarly says that the unit of capacity has a capacity of one Farad, it
being understood that this is the capacity when charged with unit electromotive force (10
5
).
The above quotation was taken from the OED2. n 1885 Johann Jakob Balmer in "Notiz uber die
Spectrallinien des Wasserstoffs" (Annalen der ,hysi$ and (hemie, Vol. 25, p. 80, 1885) wrote in
English translation:
From the formula we obtained for a fifth hydrogen line
49/45 3645.6 = 3969.65 10
-7
mm
n 1887 Albert Abraham Michelson and Edward Williams Morley wrote in ,hilosophical Maga=ine,
Series 5, December, 1887:
Considering the motion of the earth in its orbit only, this displacement should be
2 D v
2
/V
2
= 2D x 10
-8

The distance D was about eleven metres, or 2 x 10
7
wave-lengths of yellow light. Both of these
citations were taken from A .ource Boo$ in ,hysics by William Francis Magie. An even earlier
possible use of scientific notation is by Robert Whillhelm Bunsen in 1857 in ,hilosophical
&ransactions, where these formulae appear on page 357:
= 0 10
-h alpha

= 1 10
-h alpha
+ 2 10
-h alpha
+ ...
However the objection is that Bunsen was measuring the intensity of light before and after going
through a tube of chlorine, and the alpha above is defined as "The value of 1/alpha, which
signifies...the depth of chlorine to which the chemical rays must penetrate in order to be reduced to
one-tenth of their original amount..." Therefore the 10 is not necessarily part of scientific notation
but comes from the fact that Bunsen elected to measure a reduction of light to one-tenth of the
original. This entry was largely contributed by James A. Landau.
ORDER O6 O!ERATIONS
The convention that multiplication precedes addition and subtraction was in use in the earliest
books employing symbolic algebra in the 16th century. The convention that exponentiation
precedes multiplication was used in the earliest books in which exponents appeared.
n 1892 in Mental Arithmetic, M. A. Bailey advises avoiding expressions containing both and .
n 1898 in &ext>Boo$ of Alge#ra by G. E. Fisher and . J. Schwatt, a## is interpreted as (a#)#!
n 1907 in High .chool Alge#ra, "lementary (ourse by Slaught and Lennes, it is recommended that
multiplications in any order be performed first, then divisions as they occur from left to right.
n 1910 in 6irst (ourse of Alge#ra by Hawkes, Luby, and Touton, the authors write that and
should be taken in the order in which they occur.
n 1912, 6irst 7ear Alge#ra by Webster Wells and Walter W. Hart has: "ndicated operations are to
be performed in the following order: first, all multiplications and divisions in their order from left to
right; then all additions and subtractions from left to right."
n 1913, .econd (ourse in Alge#ra by Webster Wells and Walter W. Hart has: "?rder of operations!
n a sequence of the fundamental operations on numbers, it is agreed that operations under radical
signs or within symbols of grouping shall be performed before all others; that, otherwise, all
multiplications and divisions shall be performed first, proceeding from left to right, and afterwards all
additions and subtractions, proceeding again from left to right."
n 1917, "The Report of the Committee on the Teaching of Arithmetic in Public Schools,"
Mathematical 2a=ette 8, p. 238, recommended the use of brackets to avoid ambiguity in such
cases.
n A History of Mathematical Notations (1928-1929) Florian Cajori writes (vol. 1, page 274), "f an
arithmetical or algebraical term contains and , there is at present no agreement as to which sign
shall be used first."
Modern textbooks seem to agree that all multiplications and divisions should be performed in order
from left to right.
OT(ER SYMBOS O6 O!ERATION
Dot for scalar *ro+uct was used in 1902 in J. W. Gibbs's 5ector Analysis by E. B. Wilson.
However the dot was written at the baseline and was not a "raised dot."
- for 5ector *ro+uct was used in 1902 in J. W. Gibbs's 5ector Analysis by E. B. Wilson.
!lus&or&mi%us symbol "7$ was used by William Oughtred (1574-1660) in (lais Mathematicae,
published in 1631 (Cajori vol. 1, page 245).
!ostfi2 %otatio% or R!N began as prefix notation, a mathematical notation which did away with
grouping symbols. t was proposed by Jan Lukasiewicz (1878-1956). "Prefix" meant that the
operators ( * + - etc.) preceded the operands or variables they were meant to operate on. Then it
was discovered that it is much more convenient to place the operands first and operators last, so
"Postfix" or "reverse Lukasiewicz" or "reverse Polish" notation was created. With postfix notation the
operators themselves become delimiters between operations. Thus the sequence U*(V^(W + 3))/(X
- Y) becomes
U V W 3 + ^ * X Y - /
RPN is used in the computer language Forth. [Axel Harvey]
The *ro+uct symbol ( ) was introduced by Rene Descartes, according to Gullberg.
Cajori says this symbol was introduced by Gauss in 1812 (vol. 2, page 78).
S8uare root' The first use of was in 1220 by Leonardo of Pisa in ,ractica geometriae, where the
symbol meant "square root" (Cajori vol. 1, page 90).
The radical symbol first appeared in 1525 in )ie (oss by Christoff Rudolff (1499-1545). He used
(without the vinculum) for square roots. He did not use indices to indicate higher roots, but instead
modified the appearance of the radical symbol for higher roots.
t is often suggested that the origin of the modern radical symbol is that it is an altered letter r, the
first letter in the word radix! This is the opinion of Leonhard Euler in his 1nstitutiones calculi
differentialis (1775). However, Florian Cajori, author of A History of Mathematical Notations, argues
against this theory.
n 1637 Rene Descartes used , adding the vinculum to the radical symbol +a 2eometrie (Cajori
vol. 1, page 375).
Placement of the index within the opening of the radical sign was suggested in 1629 by Albert
Girard (1595-1632) in 1nention nouelle! He suggested this notation for the cube root (DSB; Cajori
vol. 1, page 371).
According to Cajori (vol. 1, page 372) the first person to adopt Girard's suggestion and place the
index within the opening of the radical sign was Michel Rolle (1652-1719) in 1690 in &rait@ d3
Alg@#re!
However, a history note in a high school textbook states that the symbol was first used by Girard
"around 1633" (A(.M, Adanced Alge#ra, 2nd ed., 1996, page 496).
n the Mathematical 2a=ette of Feb. 1895, G. Heppel wrote, "Following Chrystal, Todhunter, Hall
and Knight, and the majority of writers [sqrt]a should be considered a quantity having one and not
two values, although the algebra of C. Smith and the article by Professor Kelland in the
"ncyclopedia Britannica make [sqrt]a have two values."
Summatio%' The summation symbol ( ) was first used by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) in 1755:
Quemadmodum ad differentiam denotandam vsi sumus signo [capital delta], ita summam
indicabimus signo ( ).
The citation above is from 1nstitutiones calculi differentialis (St. Petersburg, 1755), Cap. , para. 26,
p. 27. This symbol was used by Lagrange, but otherwise received little attention during the
eighteenth century (Cajori vol. 2, pages 61 and 265.)
Absolute 5alue of a +iffere%ce' The tilde was introduced for this purpose by William Oughtred
(1574-1660) in the (lais Mathematicae (Key to Mathematics), composed about 1628 and
published in London in 1631, according to Smith, who shows a reversed tilde (Smith 1958, page
394).
Matrices' n 1841, Arthur Cayley (1821-1895) used the modern notation for the determinant of a
matrix, a single vertical line on both sides of the entries. The notation appeared in the (am#ridge
Mathematical /ournal, Vol. (1841), p. 267-271. However, Cayley used commas to separate
entries within rows (Cajori vol. 2, page 92).
The double vertical line notation was introduced by Cayley in 1843 (Cajori vol. 2, page 95).
n 1846, the first occurrence of both the single vertical line notation for determinants and double
vertical lines for matrices is found in "Mmoire sur les hyperdterminants" by Arthur Cayley in
(relle3s /ournal (Cajori vol. 2, page 93).
Cajori (vol. 2, p. 103) writes that round parentheses were used for matrices by many, including
Maxine Bocher in 1919 in 1ntroduction to Higher Alge#ra and G. Kowalewski in 1909 in
)eterminantentheorie (although Kowalewski also used double vertical lines and a single brace).
Cajori also shows a use of brackets for matrices (and no commas within) by C. E. Cullis in Matrices
and )eterminoids in 1913.
Arro9 %otatio%' n 1936 in +3Age#re A#straite Oystein Ore wrote:
Nous dirons que deux systemes algebriques S et S' sont homomorphes (par rapport a
l'addition et a la multiplication) s'il existe une correspondance a --> a' entre les elements
de S et S' donnant a chaque element a de S une image unique a3 dans S' telle que chaque
element de S' soit l'image d'au moins un element de S et en outre telle que de a --> a', b
--> b' on puisse conclure
a + b --> a' + b' , ab --> a'b' .
As early as 1939 Bourbaki used the arrow in element-to-element notation ["la application x --> f(x)"].
Saunders Mac Lane wrote:
At first the vivid arrow notation f : X ---> Y for a map was not available, and
homomorphisms of homology groups (or rings) were always expressed in terms of the
corresponding quotient group or rings. Thus the familiar long exact sequence of the
homotopy groups of a fibration was originally described in terms of subgroups and
quotient groups; this is the style used by all three discoveries of the sequence and of the
covering homotopy theorem [...] The occurrence of exact sequences of homology groups
(though not the name 'exact') was first noted by W. Hurewicz in 1941 [...] The practice of
using an arrow to represent a map f : X ---> Y arose at the same time. have not been
able to determine who first introduced this convenient notation; it may well have
appeared first on the blackboard, perhaps in lectures by Hurewicz and it is used in the
Hurewicz-Steenrod paper, submitted November 1940 ...
The above quotation is from Saunders Mac Lane, "Concepts and Categories in Perspective," A
(entury of Mathematics in America, ,art 1, AMS, vol 1, 1988 [Julio Gonzlez Cabilln].
Earliest Uses of :rou*i%) Symbols'
+ast reisionB /une ;C, 8DDD
Vi%culum belo9' The first use of the vinculum was in 1484 by Nicolas Chuquet (1445?-1500?) in
his +e &riparty en la .cience des Nom#res! The bar was placed under the parts affected (Cajori vol.
1, pages 101 and 385). Chuquet wrote:
The above expression in modern notation is . This use of a vinculum appears to be
the earliest use of a grouping symbol of any kind mentioned by Cajori.
Vi%culum abo5e' According to Cajori, the first use of the vinculum above the parts affected was by
Frans van Schooten (c. 1615-1660), who "in editing Vieta's collected works, discarded the
parentheses and placed a horizontal bar above the parts affected." n Van Schooten's 1646 edition
of Vieta, is used to represent B()
2
+ B)). Ball (page 242) says the
vinculum was introduced by Francois Vieta (1540-1603) in 1591. This information may be incorrect.
:rou*i%) e2*resse+ by letters' n the late fifteenth century and in the sixteenth century various
writers used letters or words to indicate grouping. The earliest use of such a device mentioned by
Cajori (vol. 1, page 385) is the use of the letter for niersale by Luca Paciolo (or Pacioli) (c. 1445
- prob. after 1509) in his .umma of 1494 and 1523.
!are%theses' Parentheses ( ) are "found in rare instances as early as the sixteenth century" (Cajori
vol. 1, page 390). Apparently the earliest work Cajori names in which round parentheses are found
is 2eneral trattato di numeri e misure by Nicolo Tartaglia (c. 1506-1557) in 1556. Round
parentheses occur once in Ars magna by Cardan, as printed in ?pera (1663) (Cajori vol. 1, page
392; Cajori does not indicate whether the parentheses occur in the original 1545 edition). Cajori
(vol. 1, page 391) says that Michael Stifel (1487 or 1486 - 1567) does not use parentheses as signs
of aggregation in his printed works, but that they are found in one of his handwritten marginal notes.
Cajori expresses the opinion that these parentheses are actually punctuation marks rather than
mathematical symbols. Kline says parentheses appear in 1544. He presumably refers to
Arithmetica integra by Michael Stifel.
Brac/ets' Brackets [ ] are found in the manuscript edition of Alge#ra by Rafael Bombelli (1526-
1573) from about 1550 (Cajori vol. 1, page 391). Ball (page 242) and Lucas say brackets were
introduced by Albert Girard (1595-1632) in 1629. This information appears to be inaccurate. Kline
says square brackets were introduced by Vieta (1540-1603). He presumably refers to the 1593
edition of *etetica, which according to Cajori uses both braces and brackets.
Braces' Braces { } are found in the 1593 edition of Francois Vieta's *etetica (Cajori vol. 1, page
391).
:rou*i%) symbols i% %umeratio%' n the writing of large numbers, various methods have been
used to separate numerals into groups, including dots, vertical bars, commas, arcs, colons, and
accent marks.
n 1202, Leonardo of Pisa in +i#er A#aci directs that the hundreds, hundred thousands, hundred
millions, etc., be marked with an accent mark above, and that thousands, millions, thousands of
millions, etc., be marked with an accent below (Cajori vol. 1, page 58). The earliest example of the
modern system of simply separating the numeral into groups of three with commas shown by Cajori
is in 1795 in the article "Numeration" in Mathematical and ,hilosophical )ictionary by Charles
Hutton.
Earliest Uses of Symbols of Relatio%
+ast updatedB /uly ;D, ;EE8
E8uality' n printed books before the modern equal sign, equality was usually expressed with a
word, such as ae-uales, ae-uantur, esgale,
faciunt, gheliFc$, or gleich, and sometimes by the
abbreviated form ae- (Cajori vol. 1, page 297).
The equal symbol (=) was first used by Robert
Recorde (c. 1510-1558) in 1557 in &he
'hetstone of 'itte! He wrote, " will sette as doe
often in woorke use, a paire of parralles, or
Gemowe lines of one lengthe, thus : ==, bicause
noe 2, thynges, can be moare equalle." Recorde
used an elongated form of the present symbol. He
proposed no other algebraic symbol (Cajori vol. 1,
page 306).
(ere is a% ima)e of the *a)e of The
Whetstone of Witte o% 9hich the e8ual si)% is
i%tro+uce+'
The equal symbol did not appear in print again
until 1618, when it appeared in an anonymous
Appendix, very probably due to Oughtred, printed
in Edward Wright's English translation of Napier's
)escriptio! t reappeared 1631, when it was used
by Thomas Harriot and William Oughtred (Cajori
vol. 1, page 298).
Cajori states (vol. 1, page 126):
A manuscript, kept in the Library of the University
of Bologna, contains data regarding the sign of equality (=). These data have been communicated
to me by Professor E. Bortolotti and tend to show that (=) as a sign of equality was developed at
Bologna independently of Robert Recorde and perhaps earlier. Cajori elsewhere writes that the
manuscript was probably written between 1550 and 1568.
ess tha% a%+ )reater tha%' The symbols < and > first appear in Artis Analyticae ,raxis ad
Ae-uationes Alge#raicas Resolendas (The Analytical Arts Applied to Solving Algebraic Equations)
by Thomas Harriot (1560-1621), which was published posthumously in 1631: "Signum majoritatis ut
a > b significet a majorem quam b" and "Signum minoritatis ut a < b significet a minorem quam b."
According to Johnson (page 144), while Harriot was surveying North America, he saw a native
American with this symbol on his arm: . Johnson says it is likely he developed the two symbols
from this symbol.
However, Seltman and Mizzy say that Harriot himself did not use the symbols which appear in the
work, which was published after his death:
We now know that Harriot was not directly responsible for the ,raxis, which was put
together after his death from papers which are no longer extant by Walter Warner (and,
perhaps, one or two others), when Nathaniel Torporley had failed to complete the task
which had been assigned to him in Harriot's will. Torporley was a respected mathematician
of the day, reputed to have been associated with Vite himself. The manuscripts that we
do have (in the British Library and Petworth) cannot have been the origin of the ,raxis, not
only on account of their disorder and incoherence, but also because there are significant
differences between them and the published work. Notably, the inequality signs associated
with his name are never found in his handwriting in the manuscripts but appear throughout
as and . Similarity, equality is denoted in the manuscripts by and not by = (the
sign introduced by Robert Recorde), as in the ,raxis! The significance of the inequality
signs lies in the fact that this is the first time that such signs were used and accorded the
same status as the equality sign.
ess tha% or e8ual to, )reater tha% or e8ual to' Pierre Bouguer (1698-1758) used and in 1734
(Ball). n 1670, John Wallis used similar symbols each with a single horizontal bar, but the bar was
above the < and > rather than below it (Cajori vol. 2, page 118). Cajori apparently does not show a
use of the modern symbols with the single horizontal bar.
Not e8ual to, %ot )reater tha%, %ot less tha%' These symbols were "employed, if not invented by,
Euler" (Ball, page 242). Ball shows the symbol rather than .
Is %early e8ual to' The symbol was used in 1875 by Anton Steinhauser in +ehr#uch der
Mathemati$, "Algebra" (Cajori vol. 2, page 256). The same symbol was used in 1832 by Wolfgang
Bolyai to signify absolute equality (Cajori vol. 1, page 307).
!ro*ortio%' The symbol :: was introduced by William Oughtred (1574-1660) in (lais
Mathematicae, composed about 1628 and published in London in 1631. He wrote a proportion as
a!#::c!d (Gullberg). The astronomer Vincent Wing (1619-1668) used colons to write a proportion in
the modern notation, as A:B::(:), in 1651 in Harmonicon (eleste (Cajori vol. 1, page 286). The
symbol for variation (an eight lying on its side with a piece removed) was introduced in 1768 by W.
Emerson in )octrine of 6luxions (3d ed., London) (Cajori vol. 1, page 297).
Earliest Uses of Symbols for 6ractio%s
+ast reisionB )ec! GE, ;EEE
Earliest %otatio%s for fractio%s' The Babylonians wrote numbers in a system which was almost a
place-value (positional) system, using base 60 rather than base 10. Their place value system of
notation made it easy to write fractions. The numeral
has been found on an old Babylonian tablet from the Yale collection. t is an approximation for the
square root of two. The symbols are 1, 24, 51, and 10. Because the Babylonians used a base 60, or
sexagesimal, system, this number is 1 x 60
0
+ 24 x 60
-1
+ 51 x 60
-2
+ 10 x 60
-3
, or about 1.414222.
The Babylonian system of numeration was not a pure positional system because of the absence of
a symbol for zero. n the older tablets, a space was placed in the appropriate place in the numeral;
in some later tablets, a symbol for zero does appear but in the tablets which have been discovered,
this symbol only used between other symbols and never in a terminal position.
The earliest Egyptian and Greek fractions were usually unit fractions (having a numerator of 1), so
that the fraction was shown simply by writing a numeral with a mark above or to the right indicating
that the numeral was the denominator of a fraction.
A%cie%t Rome' The Romans did not use numerals to indicate fractions, but instead used words to
indicate parts of a whole. A unit of weight was the as and the uncia (from which we have the word
"ounce") was a twelfth part of the as! The following words were used to indicate parts of the as or,
more generally, parts of any quantity:
11/12 deunx for de uncia, 1/12 taken away
10/12 dextans for de sextans, 1/6 taken away
9/12 dodrans for de -uadrans, 1/4 taken away
8/12 #es #i as for duae partes, 2/3
7/12 septunx for septem unciae
6/12 semis
5/12 -uincunx for -uin-ue unciae
4/12 triens
3/12 -uadrans
2/12 sextans
1/12 uncia
1/24 semuncia
1/48 sicilicus
1/72 scriptulum
1/144 scripulum
1/288 scrupulum
Multiples of the as were indicated using the following scheme, in which a denarius represents 16
asses. )enarii semuncia sicilicus represented 1/24 + 1/48 of a denarius or 1/16 denarius, or 1 as.
)enarii uncia semuncia represented 1/12 + 1/24 of a denarius or 1/8 denarius, or 2 asses. )enarii
sextans sicilicus represented 1/6 + 1/48 of a denarius, or 3/16 denarius, or 3 asses. )enarii deunx
sicilicus represented 11/12 + 1/48 of a denarius, or 15/16 denarius, or 15 asses [Smith vol. 2, pages
208-209].
Or+i%ary fractio%s 9ithout the hori;o%tal bar' According to Smith (vol. 2, page 215), it is
probable that our method of writing common fractions is due essentially to the Hindus, although
they did not use the bar. Brahmagupta (c. 628) and Bhaskara (c. 1150) wrote fractions as we do
today but without the bar.
The hori;o%tal fractio% bar was introduced by the Arabs. "The Arabs at first copied the Hindu
notation, but later improved on it by inserting a horizontal bar between the two numbers" (Burton).
Several sources attribute the horizontal fraction bar to al-Hassar around 1200.
When Rabbi ben Ezra (c. 1140) adopted the Moorish forms he generally omitted the bar.
Fibonacci (c.1175-1250) was the first European mathematician to use the fraction bar as it is used
today. He followed the Arab practice of placing the fraction to the left of the integer (Cajori vol. 1,
page 311).
The bar is generally found in Latin manuscripts of the late Middle Ages, but when printing was
introduced it was frequently omitted, doubtless owing to typographical difficulties. This inference is
confirmed by such books as Rudolff's Kunstliche rechnung (1526), where the bar is omitted in all
ordinary fractions but is inserted in fractions printed in larger type and those having large numbers
(Smith vol. 2, page 216).
Michael Closs points out that if we define a horizontal fraction bar to be a horizontal line that
separates the numerator from the denominator and demarcates them as such, then this type of
notation was used with exactly that purpose more than a millennium before al-Hassar. n )emotic
Mathematical ,apyri, (Brown University Press, London, 1972, pages 8-9) Richard A. Parker writes
that in three papyri dating from the third century B. C. to the Roman period, "the numerator is
written first, and the denominator follows on the same line. n problems 2, 3, 10, and 13 (the Cairo
papyrus) the numerator is underlined. n problems 51 and 72 the denominator is underlined."
Some writers use the term inculum for the horizontal fraction bar. This term originally applied to the
mark when used as a grouping symbol. Fibonacci used the Latin word irga for the horizontal
fraction bar.
The +ia)o%al fractio% bar (also called a solidus or virgule) was introduced because the horizontal
fraction bar was difficult typographically, requiring three terraces of type.
An early handwritten document with forward slashes in lieu of fraction bars is Thomas Twining's
Ledger of 1718, where quantities of tea and coffee transactions are listed, e.g. 1/4 pound green tea.
This usage of the horizontal fraction bar was found by Hans Lausch, who believes there are likely
even earlier occurrences.
Lausch has also found the horizontal fraction bar in Allgemeine )eutsche Bi#liothe$, a Berlin review
journal which was started in 1765. A precise reference may be forthcoming.
The earliest instance of a diagonal fraction bar shown by Cajori (vol. 1, page 313) is in 1784, when
a curved line resembling the sign of integration was used in the 2a=etas de Mexico by Manuel
Antonio Valdes.
n 1843, a curved line was used by Henri Cambuston in )efinicion de las principales operaciones
de arismetica (Cajori vol. 1, page 313)
n 1845, the use of the solidus was recommended by De Morgan in an article "The Calculus of
Functions" published in the "ncyclopaedia Metropolitana of 1845 (Cajori vol. 1, page 313).
n 1852, the solidus was used by Antonio Serra Y Oliveres in Manuel de la &ipografia "spaHola
(Cajori vol. 1, page 313).
Decimal fractio%s' Abu'l Hasan Ahmad ibn brahim Al-Uqlidisi (c. 920-c. 980) wrote the earliest
known text offering a direct treatment of decimal fractions. "Al-Uqlidisi uses decimal fractions as
such, appreciates the importance of a decimal sign, and suggests a good one," according to A. S.
Saidan, "The earliest extant Arabic arithmetic," 1sis 57 (1966), 475-490.
The idea of decimal fractions had been present in the work of several mathematicians of al-Karaji's
school, in particular bn Yahya al-Maghribi Al-Samawal (c. 1130-c. 1180), according to the
University of St. Andrews website.
n &he Key to Arithmetic, Ghiyath al-Din Jamshid Mas'ud al-Kashi (c. 1380-1429) gave a clear
description of decimal fractions, according to P. Luckey, )ie Rechnen$unst #ei 2amsid #! Masud
al>Kasi (1951).
Al-Kashi in his al>Risali al>mohitiFe (&reatise on the circumference) wrote the value of pi using Arabic
characters as follows:
sah-hah 3 1415926535898732
The word sah>hah meant complete, correct, integral. (The modern Turkish form is sahih!) Thus the
part at the right is the decimal, although there is no decimal point. According to Smith (vol. 2, page
240), "Manifestly it is, therefore, a clear case of a decimal fraction, and it seems to be earlier than
any similar one to be found in Europe."
Yang Hui (c. 1238-c. 1298) was a minor Chinese official who wrote two books, dated 1261 and
1275, which use decimal fractions (in the modern form). The 1275 work is called (heng (hu &ong
Bian Ben Mo [University of St. Andrews website]. Smith (vol. 1, page 255) writes, "Francesco Pellos
or Pellizzati, a native of Nice, published a commercial arithmetic at Turin in 1492 in which, as will be
shown in Volume , use is made of a decimal point to denote the division of a number by a power of
ten." n vol. 2 (page 138) Smith says Pellos "unwittingly made use of the decimal point for the first
time in a printed work" and that he "did not recognize the significance of the decimal point." Cajori
(vol. 1, page 315) says Pellos "used a point and came near the invention of decimal fractions."
n 1530, Christoff Rudolff (1499?-1545?) used a vertical bar exactly as we use a decimal point
today in setting up a compound interest table in the "xempel Bchlin (Cajori vol. 1, page 316).
Smith (vol. 2, page 240) writes:
The first man who gave evidence of having fully comprehended the significance of all
this preliminary work seems to have been Christoff Rudolff, whose "xempel Bchlin
appeared at Augsburg in 1530. n this work he solved an example in compound
interest, and used the bar precisely as we should use a decimal point today. f any
particular individual were to be named as having the best reason to be called the
inventor of decimal fractions, Rudolff would seem to be the man, because he
apparently knew how to operate with these forms as well as merely to write them, as
various predecessors had done. His work, however, was not appreciated, and
apparently was not understood, and it was not until 1585 that a book upon the
subject appeared.
n 1579 Francois Vieta (1540-1603) published a work which included a systematic use of decimal
fractions, using a vertical stroke as a separator; "from the vertical stroke to the actual comma there
is no great change" (Cajori vol. 1, page 316).
n 1585 Simon Stevin (or Stevinus) (1548-1620) published +a &hiende ("The Tenth") and +a )isme
("The Decimal"), both of which explained the use of decimal fractions. He is credited with
introducing decimal fractions into common use, although he did not use the notation we use today.
He wrote 5.912 as or .
Boyer writes (on page 340):
The use of a decimal point separatrix generally is attributed either to G. A. Magini (1555-
1617), a map-making friend of Kepler and rival of Galileo for a chair at Bologna, in his )e
planis triangulis of 1592, or to Christoph Clavius (1537-1612), a Jesuit friend of Kepler, in a
table of sines of 1593. But the decimal point did not become popular until Napier used it
more than twenty years later.
Jobst Brgi (1552-1632) "was not clear as to the best method of representing these fractions,
however, and in his manuscript of 1592 he used both a period and a comma for the decimal point"
(Smith vol. 2, page 243-244). He also used instead a small circle placed above or below the units
digit (Smith vol. 2, page 244 and Cajori (vol. 1, page 317).
n 1593 Christopher Clavius (1537-1612) used a period to separate the units and tenths digits in a
table of sines in Astrola#e! However, he used the period for other reasons in his works, and his
purpose in using the period in this case is not clear (Cajori vol. 1, page 322). Carl Boyer says
Clavius was the first person to use the decimal point with a clear idea of its significance.
William Oughtred (1574-1660) did not use a decimal point, but instead wrote 0.56 as 0/56, with the
56 underlined.
The dot as a separator occurs in 1616 in E. Wright's translation of John Napier's )escriptio! Boyer
refers to this as the first appearance of a decimal point separating the whole number part from the
decimal part, in the notation we use today. However Cajori (vol. 1, page 323) says "no evidence has
been advanced, thus far, to show that the sign was intended as a separator of units and tenths, and
not as a more general separator as in Pitiscus." According to Scott (p. 128), "Wright's translation of
his treatise on logarithms, which was published in 1616 shows the decimal point on the first page."
n 1617 in his Latin Ra#dologia, Napier used both the comma and the period as separators of units
and tenths. Before 1617, he used the period in his (onstructio, which was not published until 1619
(Cajori vol. 1, page 324).
The *erce%t symbol is believed to have evolved from a symbol introduced in an anonymous talian
manuscript of about 1425, according to D. E. Smith in Rara arithmetica in 1898.
Earliest Uses of Symbols for Co%sta%ts
+ast reisionB March ;C, ;EE8
for <'=>=?@''' Early writers indicated this constant as a ratio of two values. William Oughtred
(1574-1660) designated the ratio by the fraction lower case pi over lower case delta in (lais
mathematicae! The symbolism appears in the editions of this book of 1647, 1648, 1652, 1667,
1693, and 1694 (Cajori vol. 2, page 9).
Cajori writes that "perhaps the earliest use of a single letter to represent the ratio of the length of a
circle to its diameter" occurs in 1689 in Mathesis enucleata by J. Christoph Sturm, who used e for
3.14159....
si diameter alicuius circuli ponatur a, circumferentiam appellari posse ea (quaecumque enim
inter eas fuerit ratio, illius nomen potest designari littera e).
Cajori cites a note by A. Krazer in "uleri opera omnia as a reference for the above.
The first person to use to represent the ratio of the circumference to the diameter (3.14159...) was
William Jones (1675-1749) in 1706 in .ynopsis palmariorum mathesios! t is believed he used the
Greek letter pi because it is the first letter in perimetron (= perimeter). From Cajori (vol. 2, page 9):
The modern notation for 3.14159 .... was introduced in 1706. t was in that year that William Jones
made himself noted, without being aware that he was doing anything noteworthy, through his
designation of the ratio of the length of the circle to its diameter by the letter . He took this step
without ostentation. No lengthy introduction prepares the reader for the bringing upon the stage of
mathematical history this distinguished visitor from the field of Greek letters. t simply came,
unheralded, in the following prosaic statement (p. 263):
"There are various other ways of finding the +engths or Areas of particular (ure +ines, or ,lanes,
which may very much facilitate the Practice; as for instance, in the (ircle, the Diameter is to the
Circumference as 1 to , &c. = 3.14159, &c. = . This series (among
others for the same purpose, and drawn from the same Principle) received from the Excellent
Analyst, and my much esteem'd Friend Mr. /ohn Machin0 and by means thereof, 5an (eulen3s
Number, or that in Art. 64.38 may be Examin'd with all desirable Ease and Dispatch."
n 1734 Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) employed p instead of in "De summis serierum
reciprocarum."
n a letter of April 16, 1738, from Stirling to Euler, as well as in Euler's reply, the letter p is used.
n 1736 in Mechanica sie motus scientia analytice exposita, Euler used 1 : and "thus either
consciously adopted the notation of Jones or independently fell upon it" (Cajori vol. 2, page 10).
Euler wrote, "Si enim est m = 1/2 terminus respondens inuenitur /2 denotante 1 : rationem
diametri ad peripheriam." But the letter is not restricted to this use in his Mechanica, and the
definition of is repeated when it is taken for 3.14159...
n 1737 Euler used for 3.14159... in a letter, and again in various letters in 1737, 1738, and 1739.
Johann Bernoulli used c in 1739, in his correspondence with Euler, but in a letter of 1740 he began
to use .
n 1741 was used in H. Sherwin's Mathematical &a#les!
Nikolaus Bernoulli employed in his letters to Euler of 1742.
Euler popularized the use of by employing it in 1748 in 1ntroductio in Analysin 1nfinitorum:
Satis liquet Peripheriam hujus Circuli in numeris rationalibus exacte exprimi non
posse, per approximationes autem inventa est .. esse = 3,14159 [etc., to 128 places],
pro quo numero, brevitatis ergo, scribam , ita ut sit = Semicircumferentiae Circuli,
cujus Radius = 1, seu erit longitudo Arcus 180 graduum.
The base of %atural lo)arithms' This constant, 2.71828..., was referred to in Edward Wright's
English translation of Napier's work on logarithms, published in 1618.
The first symbol used for the constant mentioned by Cajori is the letter # used by Leibniz in letters
to Huygens in 1690 and 1691.
Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) introduced e for this constant in a manuscript, Meditatio in
"xperimenta explosione tormentorum nuper instituta (Meditation on experiments made recently on
the firing of cannon), written at the end of 1727 or the beginning of 1728 (when Euler was just 21
years old). The manuscript was first printed in 1862 in Euler's ?pera postuma mathematica et
physica, Petropoli, edited by P. H. Fuss and N. Fuss (vol ii, pp. 800-804). The manuscript describes
seven experiments performed between August 21 and September 2, 1727:
For the number whose logarithm is unity, let e be written, which is 2,7182817... [sic] whose
logarithm according to Vlacq is 0,4342944... [translated from Latin by Florian Cajori].
Euler next used e in a letter addressed to Goldbach on November 25, 1731, writing that e "denotes
that number whose hyperbolic logarithm is = 1."
The earliest appearance of e in a pu#lished work was in Euler's Mechanica (1736), in which he laid
the foundations of analytical mechanics (Maor, p. 156).
Maor writes (page 156):
Why did he choose the letter e? There is no general consensus. According to one view,
Euler chose it because it is the first letter of the word exponential! More likely, the choice
came to him naturally as the first "unused" letter of the alphabet, since the letters a, #, c,
and d frequently appear elsewhere in mathematics. t seems unlikely that Euler chose the
letter because it is the initial of his own name, as occasionally been suggested: he was an
extremely modest man and often delayed publication of his own work so that a colleague
or student of his would get due credit. n any event, his choice of the symbol e, like so
many other symbols of his, became universally accepted.
Ball says: "t is probable that the choice of e for a particular base was determined by its being the
vowel consecutive to a!"
According to Boyer (page 494), this notation was "suggested perhaps by the first letter of the word
'exponential.'"
n a post in sci.math in 1995, Wei-hwa Huang wrote: " believe that e was not named because it was
the first letter in Euler's name, but rather because he was using vowels for constants in a proof of
his and e happened to be the second one."
n a post to a history of mathematics list in 1999, Olivier Gerard wrote: "The hypothesis made by my
friend Etienne Delacroix de La Valette was that e was for 'ein' (one in German) or 'Einheit' (unity),
which would be matching the sentence Euler uses to define it (whose logarithm is unity). As always,
many explanations may be true at the same time."
Several textbooks claim that the letter e was chosen to honor Euler. Cajori has no information to
support this claim, and in fact the earliest uses of e were by Euler himself.
The early uses of symbols for 2.718... mentioned by Cajori are as follows:
1690 # Leibniz Letter to Huygens
1691 # Leibniz Letter to Huygens
1703 a A reviewer Acta eruditorum
1727/8 e Euler Meditatio in "xperimenta explosione tormentorum nuper instituta
1736 e Euler Mechanica sie motus scientia analytice exposita
1747 c D'Alembert Histoire de l3Acad@mie
1747 e Euler various articles
1751 e Euler various articles
1760 e Daniel Bernoulli Histoire de l3Acad@mie r! d! sciences
1763 e J. A. Segner (ursus mathematici
1764 c D'Alembert Histoire de l3Acad@mie
1764 e J. H. Lambert Histoire de l3Acad@mie r! d! sciences et d! #elles lettres
1771 e Condorcet Histoire de l3Acad@mie
1774 e Abb Sauri (ours de math@mati-ues
1775 e J. A. Fas 1nleiding tot de Kennisse en het ge#ruy$ der ?neindig Kleinen
1782 e P. Frisi ?perum tomus primus
1787 c Daniel Melandri Noa Acta Heletica physico>mathematica
The term Napier3s constant has been suggested for 2.718... The name "uler3s constant may be
inappropriate for this number, as the number was known before Euler's birth and "uler3s constant
more frequently is used to refer to 0.577....
Benjamin Peirce suggested the innovative notation for and e shown below:
From J. D. Runkin's Mathematical Monthly, vol. , No. 5, Feb. 1859
A somewhat modified notation, shown below, appears in the (entury )ictionary (1889-1897) in the
entry notation:
Euler&Maschero%i co%sta%t' Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) used ( in )e progressioni#us
harmonicis o#serationes, (ommentarii academiae scientiarum petropolitanae 7 (1734-35),
published in 1740, pp.150-161. Reprinted in ?pera omnia (1) 14, pp. 87-100.
According to Cajori (vol. 2, page 32), Mascheroni used A in Adnotationes ad calculum integralem
"uleri (1790-1792).
According to a new book by William Dunham, "uler, the Master of As All (1999), Mascheroni
introduced the symbol for the Euler-Mascheroni constant. Dunham has kindly supplied this website
with a copy of the paper, "On the History of Euler's Constant," which is the source of this
information. [The paper, by J. W. L. Glaisher, appeared in 1872 in &he Messenger of Mathematics!]
n the paper, Glaisher does not specify where Mascheroni used the symbol, but seems to imply it is
in Adnotationes ad "uleri (alculum 1ntegralem, which Glaisher indicates in a footnote is a work he
has not seen but which is referred to in volume 3 of Lacroix's )ifferential and 1ntegral (alculus!
Gauss used the Greek letter psi.
Julio Gonzlez Cabilln has found in "Theoriae logarithmi integralis lineamenta nova," an essay
submitted by Carl Anton Bretschneider (1808-1878) on October 13, 1835, to (relle3s /ournal! The
article was published in volume 17, pp. 257-285, 1837. The symbol itself can be found on page 260.
DeMorgan used , according to J. W. L. Glaisher in "On the History of Euler's Constant" (1872) in
&he Messenger of Mathematics!
W. Shanks used "E. or Eul. constant" in ,roc! Royl! .oc! of +ondon, Vol XV (1867).
The letter " was adopted by J. W. L. Glaisher in 1871 and J. C. Adams in 1878.
Ernst Pascal retained Mascheroni's notation A in 1900 (Cajori vol. 2, page 32).
n vol. V of "L'ntermediaire des mathematiciens" (1900), G. Vacca (from Turin) asks who
introduced . His question #1998 reads as follows:
n the German "Encyclopaedie" (1900, vol. , p. 171) it says that Mascheroni has denoted
the Euler's constant 0.577... by . According to my research, this author designated it by
letter "A".
n "Synopsis" of Mr. Hagen (1891, vol. , p. 86), it is said that Euler has introduced this
symbol in "Acta Petr." (1769, vol. XV).
Mr. E. Pascal, in his "Repertorium" (1900, vol. , p. 478 of the German edition) reproduces
that suggestion. But, in the quoted volume, and in many memoirs of Euler, have found
that this author has just used the symbol "C", 'et parfois' "O".
Who is the first mathematician that has introduced the symbol for the Euler's constant?
n his Adnotationes ad calculum integrale "uleri (1790), Lorenzo Mascheroni (1750-1800)
calculated the constant to 32 decimal places:
.57721 56649 01532 86061 81120 90082 39...
n 1809 Johann von Soldner (1766-1833) published his "Thorie d'un nouvelle fonction
transcendante," in which his value of the constant given on page 13 is:
.57721 56649 01532 86060 6065...
which differs from Mascheroni's value at the twentieth decimal place. n 1812 Gauss asked F. G. B.
Nicolai (1793-1846), "juvenem in calculo indefessum," to check their results, and he agreed with
von Soldner. A note in a memoir by Gauss which contained the results of Nicolai's calculation
apparently attracted little attention and Mascheroni's value was repeatedly quoted thereafter
(Glaisher).
for the )ol+e% ratio' According to &he (ures of +ifeB Being an Account of .piral 6ormations and
&heir Application to 2ro%th in Nature, to .cience, and to ArtB 'ith .pecial Reference to the
Manuscripts of +eonardo da 5inci (1914) by Sir Theodore Andrea Cook (1867-1928), page 420:
Mr. Mark Barr . . . suggested . . . that this ratio should be called the phi proportion for reasons given
below . . . The symbol phi was given to this proportion partly because it has a familiar sound to
those who wrestle constantly with pi and partly because it is the 1st letter of the name of Pheidias,
in whose sculpture this sculpture is seen to prevail when the distance between salient points are
measured.
The above quotation and citation were provided by Samuel S. Kutler and Julio Gonzlez Cabilln.
Barr was an American mathematician.
According to Gardner (1961) and Huntley, the letter phi was chosen because it is the first letter in
the name of Phidias who is believed to have used the golden proportion frequently in his sculpture.
However, Schwartzman (page 164) implies the letter stands for Fibonacci.
The Greek letter tau is also used for this constant. Tau is found in 1948 in Regular ,olytopes by
Harold Scott MacDonald Coxeter, according to John Conway, who believes Coxeter may have used
the symbol in his papers of the 1920s and 1930s. Ball and Coxeter (1987, page 57) write, "The
symbol [tau] is appropriate because it is the initial of tomh\ ("section") [Antreas P. Hatzipolakis].
H. v. Baravalle used 2 for 0.618... in "The Geometry of the Pentagon and the Golden Section,"
which appeared in &he Mathematics &eacher in January 1948. He may have used the same symbol
in his "Die Geometrie des Pentagrammes und der Goldene Schnitt" in 1932.
n &he .hape of the 2reat ,yramid (1999), Roger Herz-Fischler uses 2 for 1.618... and g for .
618....
i for the ima)i%ary u%it was first used by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) in a memoir presented in
1777 but not published until 1794 in his "nstitutionum calculi integralis."
On May 5, 1777, Euler addressed to the 'Academiae' the paper "De Formulis Differentialibus
Angularibus maxime irrationalibus quas tamen per logarithmos et arcus circulares integrare licet,"
which was published posthumously in his "nstitutionum calculi integralis," second ed., vol. 4, pp.
183-194, mpensis Academiae mperialis Scientiarum, Petropoli, 1794.
Quoniam mihi quidem alia adhuc via non patet istud praestandi nisi per imaginaria procedendo,
formulam littera i in posterum designabo, ita ut sit ii = -1 ideoque 1/i = -i.
According to Cajori, the next appearance of i in print is by Gauss in 1801 in the )is-uisitiones
Arithmeticae! Carl Boyer believes that Gauss' adoption of i made it the standard. By 1821, when
Cauchy published (ours d3Analyse, the use of i was rather standard, and Cauchy defines i as "as if
was a real quantity whose square is equal to -1."
Throughout his 1ntroductio, Euler consistently writes , denoting by i the "numerus infinite
magnus" [namely, an infinitely large number]. Nonetheless, there are very few occasions where
Euler chose i with a different meaning. Thus, chapter XX (volume 2) of Euler's 1ntroductio contains
the first appearance of i as -uantitas imaginaria:
Cum enim numerorum negativorum Logarithmi sint imaginarii (...) erit log(-n) quantitas imaginaria,
quae sit = i!
The citation above is from "ntroductio in analysin infinitorum," Lausannae, Apud Marcum-
Michaelem Bousquet & socios, M.DCC.XLV (1748).
Please note that, in this fascinating passage about logarithms, Euler does not introduce the symbol
i such that i
2
= -1.
[This entry was contributed by Julio Gonzlez Cabilln.]
Ol+er symbols for ;ero' The following is taken from a paper "Africa, Cradle of Mathematics" by
Beatrice Lumpkin:
t is well known that a zero placeholder was not used or needed in Egyptian numerals, a system of
numerals without place value. Still historians such as Boyer and Gillings have found examples of
the use of the zero concept in ancient Egypt. But Gillings added, "Of course zero, which had not yet
been invented, was not written down by the scribe or clerk; in the papyri, a blank space indicates
zero." However, some Egyptologists did know that the ancient Egyptians used a zero symbol, but it
may have been missed by historians of mathematics because the symbol did not appear in the
surviving mathematical papyri.
The Egyptian zero symbol was a triliteral hieroglyph, with consonant sounds [symbol]. This was the
same hieroglyph used to represent beauty, goodness, or completion. There are two major sources
of evidence for an Egyptian zero symbol:
=' Aero refere%ce le5el for co%structio% )ui+eli%es' Massive stone structures such as
the ancient Egyptian pyramids required deep foundations and careful leveling of the
courses of stone. Horizontal leveling lines were used to guide the construction. One of
these lines, often at pavement level, was used as a reference and was labeled [symbol], or
zero. Other horizontal leveling lines were spaced 1 cubit apart and labeled as 1 cubit
above [symbol], 2 cubits above [symbol], or 1 cubit, 2 cubits, 3 cubits, and so forth, below
[symbol]. Here zero was used as a reference for directed or signed numbers.
n 1931, George Reisner described the terms used to label the leveling lines at the
Mycerinus (Menkure) pyramid at Giza, built c. 2600 BCE. He gave the following list
collected earlier by Borchardt and Petrie from their study of Old Kingdom pyramids. [...]
B' Boo//ee*i%), ;ero remai%+ers' A bookkeeper's record from the 13th dynasty c 1700
BCE shows a monthly balance sheet for items received and disbursed by the royal court
during its travels. On subtracting total disbursements from total income, a zero remainder
was left in many columns. This zero remainder was represented with the same symbol,
[symbol], as used for the zero reference line in construction.
These practical applications of a zero symbol in ancient Egypt, a society which
conventional wisdom believed did not have a zero, may encourage historians to reexamine
the everyday records of ancient cultures for mathematical ideas that have been
overlooked.
According to Milo Gardner, Mesoamericans used a fully positional base 4, 5 system, with zero as a
place holder, counting 0-19, as early as 1,000 BC.
3 As early as the fourth century BC, the Chinese represented zero as a blank space on a counting
board (Johnson, page 160).
Babylonians in the Seleucid period (300 BC onward) used a symbol for zero, mainly in astronomical
texts, and never in final positions. According to Neugebauer in &he "xact .ciences in Anti-uity,
Dover, 2nd edition, 1969, p. 20:
The Babylonian place value notation shows in its earlier development two disadvantages
which are due to the lack of a symbol for zero. The first difficulty consists in the possibility of
misreading a number 1 20 as 1,20 = 80 when actually 1,0,20 = 3620 was meant.
Occasionally this ambiguity is overcome by separating the two numbers very clearly if a
whole sexagesimal place is missing. But this method is by no means strictly applied and we
have many cases where numbers are spaced widely without any significance. n the latest
period, however, when astronomical texts were computed, a special symbol for "zero" was
used. This symbol also occurs earlier as a separation mark between sentences, and
therefore transcribe it by a "period". Thus we find in Seleucid astronomical texts many
instances of numbers like 1, . , 20 or even 1, . , . ,20 which apply exactly the same principle
as, e.g.,our 201 or 2001.
But even in the final phase of Babylonian writing we do not find any examples of zero signs
at the end of numbers. Though there are many instances of cases like . ,20 there is no safe
example of a writing like 20, . known to me. n others words, in all periods the context alone
decides the absolute value of a sexagesimal written number.
However, Georges ffrah (Histoire Anierselle des (hiffres, Seghers, Paris, 1981, p. 400-401) writes
that Babylonian astronomers used the zero not only in the intermediate positions but also in initial or
final positions, and he gives Neugebauer as the source of this information.
According to Boyer (p. 29-30), "The Babylonians seem at first to have had no clear way in which to
indicate an "empty" position--that is, they did not have a zero symbol, although they sometimes left
a space where a zero was intended. ... By about the time of the conquest by Alexander the Great,
however, a special sign, consisting of two small wedges placed obliquely, was invented to serve as
a placeholder where a numeral was missing. ... The Babylonian zero symbol apparently did not end
all ambiguity, for the sign seems to have been used for intermediate empty positions only. There
are no extant tablets in which the zero sign appears in a terminal position. This means that the
Babylonians in antiquity never achieved an absolute positional system."
Burton says that about A. D. 150, the Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy began using the omicron
[which looks something like a zero] in the manner of our zero, not only in a medial but also in a
terminal position. He says there is no evidence that Ptolemy regarded the symbol as a number by
itself that could enter into computations with other numbers. Omicron is the first letter of the Greek
word for "nothing." However, Len Berggren says, "Ptolemy probably did not use omicron to denote
0. Papyri from the period when Ptolemy lived show a small 'o' %ith a #ar oer it as the symbol for 0,
and the small 'o' alone doesn't come in until the Byzantine period. Even in that period Neugebauer
considers it unlikely that the small 'o' stood for the Greek word ouden (= nothing). See the
discussion in the second edition of Neugebauer's Exact Sciences in Antiquity, esp. pp. 13 - 14."
The oldest Maya artifact employing both positional notation and a zero is Pestac, Stela 1, with a
contemporaneous date of Feb. 8, AD 665. The oldest Maya artifacts employing a zero but not
positional notation are Uaxactun, Stelae 18 and 19, with a contemporaneous date of AD 357. The
oldest Maya artifact employing the same chronological system as in the previous cases but without
a zero and without positional notation is Tikal, Stela 29, with a contemporaneous date of July 8, AD
292 (Michael Closs).
[This website previously showed what seemed to be an occurrence of a symbol for zero on a tablet
from the Old Babylonian period, about 1800 B. C. However, it is now believed that this sole
appearance was not real and may have been due to an error of the scribe who made the tablet.]
The (i%+u ;ero symbol' The "ncyclopaedia Britannica says, "Hindu literature gives evidence that
the zero may have been known before the birth of Christ, but no inscription has been found with
such a symbol before the 9th century."
According to Johnson (page 160), by the third century A.D., Hindu mathematicians were using a
heavy dot to mark its place in calculations and the dot was eventually replaced by an empty circle.
The earliest date Bell has found to be fairly proven for the use of zero was A. D. 505 in a
,ancasiddhanti$a by Varahamihira.
According to ffrah (op. cit., p. 468), a heavy point for zero appears in a Khmer inscription of 683
found at Trapeang Bay, Sambor Province, Cambodia. A small circle for zero appears in 683 in an
inscription found in Kedukan Bukit, Palebang, Sumatra. A small circle is also found in 684 at Talang
Tuwo, Palebang, Sumatra, and in 686 at Kota Kapur, Banka sland.
According to Menninger (p. 400):
This long journey begins with the ndian inscription which contains the earliest true zero known thus
far (Fig. 226). This famous text, inscribed on the wall of a small temple in the vicinity of Gvalior
(near Lashkar in Central ndia) first gives the date 933 (A.D. 870 in our reckoning) in words and in
Brahmi numerals. Then it goes on to list four gifts to a temple, including a tract of land "270 royal
hastas long and 187 wide, for a flower-garden." Here, in the number 270 the zero first appears as a
small circle (fourth line in the Figure); in the twentieth line of the inscription it appears once more in
the expression "50 wreaths of flowers" which the gardeners promise to give in perpetuity to honor
the divinity.
Manoel Almeida reports that, following ffrah, the date of the Gvalior inscription is A. D. 876.
According to Johnson (page 160), the date of the inscription is A. D. 840. Johnson says this
inscription is the oldest surviving use of an empty circle for zero.
Michael Closs writes that the Gvalior inscription is not the "earliest known written zero" from ndia:
There are several more ancient inscriptions which also exhibit written zeros within the context of
positional notation. Rabindra Nath Mukherjee, an ndian historian of mathematics, has noted
several such artifacts. Unfortunately, he has provided neither photographs of the artifacts nor
descriptions of the texts. am hoping to collect this information. The oldest hard evidence which
Mukherjee gives is an inscription from AD 672 in which the zero is written as a small dot. Next is an
inscription from AD 683 in which the zero is written as a large dot. This is followed by an inscription
from AD 684 in which the zero is written as a small circle. This is the earliest known (by me!)
antecedent having the same form as our modern zero symbol.
ffrah (op. cit., p. 464-465) mentions two cooper's letters, dated from V AD, with small circles to
represent zeros. Both are earlier than Gwalior inscriptions, but consensus about its authenticity is
lacking.
Manoel Almeida, who contributed much of the information for this article, says he suspects, due to
the puzzling coincidence of dates and of the use of the same symbols for zero, that the AD 683 and
AD 684 inscriptions mentioned by Mukherjee can be the Trapeang Bay and the Talang Tuwo
inscriptions, quoted by ffrah. He is interested in additional information from Mukherjee's articles.
Another source says the first zero in the Hindu system was represented by a dot and was found in a
text written by Bakhshali, the date of which is unknown. The Bakhshali manuscript may have been
written in the 8th or 9th century, but may have been written later and may not even be of Hindu
origin (Smith, vol. 1, page 164).
According to Georges ffrah in Histoire Anierselle des (hiffres, Seghers, Paris, 1981, p.489-490,
the first European to advocate the use of the Hindu zero was Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra (1092-
1167), who wrote .fer H Mispar (The Book of the Number), in which he used the circle to represent
zero. He preferred to use the first nine letters of the Hebrew alphabet rather than the nine Hindu-
Arabic numbers. He called the zero 2algal (Hebrew for wheel) or Sifra (apud the arab Sifr,
certainly). He also changed the old Hebrew alphabetic numeration system into a new decimal
positional system like ours.
Leonardo of Pisa (1180-1250) (or Fibonacci) also advocated the use of zero, using the term
=ephirum in +i#er A#aci!
The zero symbol first appears in print in the 1200s, according to Burton. Smith says that Ch'in Kiu-
shao (or Tsin Kiu tschaou or Ts'in K'ieou-Chao) of China used 0 in 1247 or 1257 in &he Nine
.ections of Mathematics.
Rida A. K. rani, in a paper in Centaurus, vol. 4 (1955), pp. 1-12 gives forms of the Hindu-Arabic
characters as they occur in dated Arabic manuscripts, and shows that the medieval Arabs used a
small 'o' for zero. This tends to degenerate to a dot in late (e.g. 17th century) manuscripts.
Earliest Uses of Symbols for Variables
+ast reisionB April 9, ;EEE
:ree/ letters' The use of letters to represent general numbers goes back to Greek antiquity.
Aristotle frequently used single capital letters or two letters for the designation of magnitude or
number (Cajori vol. 2, page 1).
Diophantus (fl. about 250-275) used a Greek letter with an accent to represent an unknown. G. H.
F. Nesselmann takes this symbol to be the final sigma and remarks that probably its selection was
prompted by the fact that it was the only letter in the Greek alphabet which was not used in writing
numbers. However, differing opinions exist (Cajori vol. 1, page 71).
n 1463, Benedetto of Florence used the Greek letter rho for an unknown in &rattato di praticha
d3arismetrica! (Franci and Rigatelli, p. 314)
Roma% letters' n Leonardo of Pisa's +i#er a##aci (1202) the representation of given numbers by
small letters is found (Cajori vol. 2, page 2). The Boncompagni edition, page 455, has:
diuidatur aliquis numerus .a. in duas partes, que sint .b.g.; et diuidatur .a. per .b., et
ueniet .e.; et .a. per .g. ueniet .d.: dico quod multiplicatio .d. in .e.est sicut agregatio
.d.cum .e. [divide some number .a. in two parts which are .b.g.; and divide .a. by .b. to
obtain .e.; and .a. by .g. to obtain .d.: say that the product of .d. in .e. is as the sum of
.d. with .e.]
The dots were used to bring into prominence letters occurring in the running text, a practice
common in manuscripts of that time [Barnabas Hughes; Cajori vol. 2, page 2].
Jordanus Nemorarius (1225-1260) used letters to replace numbers.
Christoff Rudolff used the letters a, c, and d to represent numbers, although not in algebraic
equations, in Behend nnd Hu#sch Rechnung (1525) (Cajori vol. 1, page 136).
Michael Stifel used - (abbreviation for -uantita (which Cardan had already done) but he also used
A, B, (, ), and 6, for unknowns in 1544 in Arithmetica integra (Cajori vol. 1, page 140).
Girolamo Cardan (1501-1576) used the letters a and # to designate known numbers in )e regula
ali=a (1570) (Cajori vol. 1, page 120).
n 1575 Guilielmus Xylander translated the Arithmetica of Diophantus from Greek into Latin and
used N (numerus) for unknowns in equations (Cajori vol. 1, page 380).
n 1591 Francois Vieta (1540-1603) was the first person to use letters for unknowns and constants
in algebraic equations. He used vowels for unknowns and consonants for given numbers (all capital
letters) in 1n artem analyticem isogoge! Vieta wrote:
Quod oopus, ut arte aliqua juventur, symbolo constanti et perpetuo ac bene conspicuo
date magnitudines ab incertis quaesititiis distinguantur ut [illegible in Cajori] magnitudines
quaesititias elemento A aliave litera volcali, ", 1, ?, 5, 7 [illegible in Cajori] elementis B,
2, ), aliisve consonis designando. [As one needs, in order that one may be aided by a
particular device, some unvarying, fixed and clear symbol, the given magnitudes shall be
distinguished from the unknown magnitudes with the letter A or with another vowel ", 1,
?, A, 7, the given ones with the letters B, 2, ) or other consonants.]
(Cajori vol. 1, page 183, and vol. 2, page 5).
Thomas Harriot (1560-1621) in Artis Analyticae ,raxis, ad Ae-uationes Alge#raicas used lower
case vowels for unknowns and lower case consonants for known quantities.
DescartesC use of z, y, x. The following is from Cajori (vol 1, page 381):
The use of =, y, x . . . to represent unknowns is due to Ren Descartes, in his +a g@ometrie
(1637). Without comment, he introduces the use of the first letters of the alphabet to signify
$no%n quantities and the use of the last letters to signify un$no%n quantities. His own
langauge is: "...l'autre, +N, est (1/2)a la moiti de l'autre quantit connue, qui estoit
multiplie par =, que ie suppose estre la ligne inconnue." Again: "...ie considere ... Que le
segment de la ligne AB, qui est entre les poins A et B, soit nomm x, et quie B( soit nomm
y; ... la proportion qui est entre les costs AB et BR est aussy donne, et ie la pose comme
de = a #; de faon qu' AB estant x, RB sera #x/=, et la toute (R sera y = #x/=. ..." Later he
says: "et pour ce que (B et BA sont deux quantits indetermines et inconnus, ie les
nomme, l'une y; et l'autre x! Mais, affin de trouver le rapport de l'une a l'autre, ie considere
aussy les quantits connus qui determinent la description de cete ligne courbe: comme
2A que je nomme a, K+ que je nomme #, et N+, parallele a 2A, que ie nomme (!" As co-
ordinates he uses later only x and y! n equations, in the third book of the 2@om@trie, x
predominates. n manuscripts written in the interval 1629-40, the unknown = occurs only
once. n the other places x and y occur. n a paper on Cartesian ovals, prepared before
1629, x alone occurs as unknown, y being used as a parameter. This is the earliest place in
which Descartes used one of the last letters of the alphabet to represent an unknown. A little
later he used x, y, = again as known quantities.
Some historical writers have focused their attention upon the x, disregarding the y and =,
and the other changes in notation made by Descartes; these wrtiers have endeavored to
connect this x with older symbols or with Arabic words. Thus, J. Tropfke, P. Treutlein, and
M. Curtze advanced the view that the symbol for the unknown used by early German
writers, looked so much like an x that it could easily have been taken as such, and that
Descartes actually did interpret and use it as an x! But Descartes' mode of introducing the
knowns a, #, c, etc., and the unknowns =, y, x makes this hypothesis improbable. Moreover,
G. Enestrm has shown that in a letter of March 26, 1619, addressed to saac Beeckman,
Descartes used the symbol as a symbol in form distinct from x, hence later could not
have mistaken it for an . At one time, before 1637, Descartes used x along the side of ;
at that time x, y, = are still used by him as symbols for known quantities. German symbols
including the for x, as they are found in the algebra of Clavius, occur regularly in a
manuscript due to Descartes, the ?puscules de 8:8D>8:;8!
All these facts caused Tropfke in 1921 to abandon his old view on the origin of x, but he now
argues with force that the resemblance of x and , and Descartes' familiarity with , may
account for the fact that in the latter part of Descartes' 2@om@trie the x occurs more
frequently than = and y! Enestrm, on the other hand, inclines to the view that the
predominance of x over y and = is due to typographical reasons, type for x being more
plentiful because of the more frequent occurrence of the letter x, to y and =, in the French
and Latin languages.
Descartes introduced the equation ax + #y = c, which is still used to describe the equation of a line
(Johnson, page 145).
Johnson says (on page 145):
The predominant use of the letter x to represent an unknown value came about in an interesting
way. During the printing of +a 2eometrie and its appendix, )iscours de +a Methode, which
introduced coordinate geometry, the printer reached a dilemma. While the text was being typeset,
the printer began to run short of the last letters of the alphabet. He asked Descartes if it mattered
whether x, y, or = was used in each of the book's many equations. Descartes replied that it made no
difference which of the three letters was used to designate an unknown quantity. The printer
selected x for most of the unknowns, since the letters y and = are used in the French language
more frequently than is x!
There are, however, other explanations for Descartes' use of x, y, and = for unknowns. For
example, the in the definition of x in 'e#ster3s Ne% 1nternational )ictionary (1909-1916) and the
subsequent second edition of the same dictionary, it is claimed that "I was used as an abbreviation
for Arabic shei a thing, something, which, in the Middle Ages, was used to designate the unknown,
and was then prevailingly transcribed as xei!" Cajori says there is no evidence for this.
According to the ?xford "nglish )ictionary (2nd ed.):
The introduction of x, y, = as symbols of unknown quantities is due to Descartes (2@om@trie, 1637),
who, in order to provide symbols of unknowns corresponding to the symbols a, #, c of knowns, took
the last letter of the alphabet, =, for the first unknown and proceeded backwards to y and x for the
second and third respectively. There is no evidence in support of the hypothesis that x is derived
ultimately from the mediaeval transliteration xei of shei "thing", used by the Arabs to denote the
unknown quantity, or from the compendium for L. res "thing" or radix "root" (resembling a loosely-
written x), used by mediaeval mathematicians.
Descartes used letters to represent only positive numbers; a negative number could be represented
as -# (Cajori vol. 2, page 5).
John Hudde (1633-1704) was first to allow a letter to represent a positive or negative number, in
1657 in )e reductione ae-uationum, published at the end of the first volume of F. Van Schooten's
second Latin edition of Ren Descartes' 2@om@trie (Cajori vol. 2, page 5).
Jonas Moore wrote in Arithmetic (1660): "Note alwayes the given quantities or numbers with
Consonants, and those which are sought with Vowels, or else the given quantities with the former
letters in the Alphabet, and the sought with the last sort of letters, as = y x, &c. lest you make a
confusion in your work."
Com*le2 %umbers' The a + #i notation was introduced by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783).
Earliest Uses of 6u%ctio% Symbols
+ast reisionB April 89, ;EE8
The fu%ctio% symbol f(x) was first used by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) in 1734 in (ommentarii
Academiae .cientiarum ,etropolitanae (Cajori, vol. 2, page 268).
Absolute 5alue fu%ctio%' Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) used | | in an 1841 essay "Zur Theorie der
Potenzreihen," in which the symbol appears on page 67. He also used the symbol in 1859 in "Neuer
Beweis des Fundamentalsatzes der Algebra," in which the symbol appears on page 252. This latter
essay was submitted to the Berlin Academy of Sciences on December 12, 1859. These are the two
reference shown by Cajori (vol. 2, page 123).
Cajori says that the first essay was not printed at the time, and Julio Gonzlez Cabilln believes
neither paper was published until 1894, "when the welcome "rster Band [vol. ] of Karl Weierstrass
"Mathematische Werke" [Berlin: Mayer & Mueller], saw the light. do not know to what extent the
editors could have interfered with Weierstrass manuscripts. n both papers the notation under
discussion does not appear with a definition or with a further comment; thus am speculating that
their subsequent published typesetting might differ from that of Weierstrass original."
The memoir "Zur Theorie der eindeutigen analytischen Functionen," which appeared in
A#handlungen der Koeniglich A$ademie der 'issenschaften [pp. 11-60, Berlin 1876, and was
reprinted in *%eiter Band (volume ) of Weierstrass "Mathematische Werke" (1895)] has a footnote
on page 78 in which Weierstrass remarks:
ch bezeichne den absoluten Betrag einer complex Groesse x mit |x|. [ denote the absolute value of
complex number x by |x|] n this memoir, Weierstrass applied the absolute value symbolism to
complex numbers.
Beta fu%ctio%' The use of the beta symbol (for the function created by Euler) was introduced by
Jacques P. M. Binet (1786-1856) in 1839 (Cajori, vol. 2, page 272).
Julio Gonzlez Cabilln says the capital letter B is a common one in the Greek and Latin alphabets.
f, after Le Gendre, the second Eulerian integral was known as the Gamma function, why Binet
could not choose the initial of his name to denote the first Eulerian integral (Beta function),
conventionally written as B(p,-)! And the precise citation?... "Memoire sur les intgrales dfinies
euleriennes, et sur leur application a la theorie des suites, ansi qu'a l'evaluation des fonctions des
grands nombres," Journal de L'Ecole Royale Polytchnique, Tome XV, pp. 123-343, Paris, 1839.
On page 131 of his "Memoire...", Binet states:
Je designerai la premiere de ces fonctions par B(p,-), et pour la seconde j'adoptarai la
notacion Gamma(p) proposee par M. Legendre.
:amma fu%ctio%' The use of (for the function created by Euler) was introduced by Adrien-Marie
Legendre (1752-1833) (Cajori vol. 2, page 271). On page 277 of his "Exercices de Calcul integral
sur divers ordres de transcendantes et sur les quadrantes," Tome Premier, Paris, 1811, Legendre
states:
... Cette quantit tant simplement fonction de a, nous la designerons par (a), et nous ferons (a)
= ntegral[dx(log 1/x)
(a-1)
].
t is unknown why Legendre chose that letter, but Julio Gonzlez Cabilln says compare capital
letter + (Le Gendre) and the upside-down +! Or the relation between 2 (in Gendre) and 2 in
Gamma. And there is also a nice relation between the gamma function and the contant ( (=
0.577...). Letter ( (the one that Euler actually used in his )e progressioni#us harmonicis
o#serationes) is third in our alphabet; gamma is also third in the Greek alphabet. Please mind that
Legendre also used capital ( to represent the famous Euler-Mascheroni constant (= 0.577...): On
page 295 (ibidem) Legendre says:
( tant une constant dont la valeur calcule avec prcision par une autre voie est ( =
0,5772156649015325 donc enfin on aura, $ tant trs-petit log = -log $ - ($!"
Riema%%Cs ;eta fu%ctio%' The use of the small letter zeta for this function was introduced by
Bernhard Riemann (1826-1866) as early as 1857 (Cajori vol. 2, page 278).
Bessel fu%ctio%s' P. A. Hansen used the letter / for this function in 1843 in "rmittelung der
a#soluten .tJrungen, although the designation of the index and argument has varied since then.
Bessel himself used the letter 1 (Cajori vol. 2, page 279).
o)arithm fu%ctio%' Log. (with a period, capital "L") was used by Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) in
1624 in (hilias logarithmorum (Cajori vol. 2, page 105)
log. (with a period, lower case "l") was used by Bonaventura Cavalieri (1598-1647) in )irectorium
generale 5ranometricum in 1632 (Cajori vol. 2, page 106).
log (without a period, lower case "l") appears in the 1647 edition of (lais mathematicae by William
Oughtred (1574-1660) (Cajori vol. 1, page 193).
Kline (page 378) says Leibniz introduced the notation log x (showing no period), but he does not
give a source.
was introduced by Edmund Gunter (1581-1626) according to an nternet source. [ do not see a
reference for this in Cajori.]
ln (for natural logarithm) was used in 1893 by rving Stringham (1847-1909) in Aniplanar Alge#ra
(Cajori vol. 2, page 107).
William Oughtred (1574-1660) used a minus sign over the characteristic of a logarithm in the (lais
Mathematicae (Key to Mathematics), "except in the 1631 edition which does not consider
logarithms" (Cajori vol. 2, page 110). The (lais Mathematicae was composed around 1628 and
published in 1631 (Smith 1958, page 393). Cajori shows a use from the 1652 edition.
:reatest i%te)er fu%ctio%' Although [x] is commonly used for this function, the notation was
introduced by Kenneth E. verson in 1962, according to the website of the University of Tennessee
at Martin. The function is also called the floor function!
According to Grinstein (1970), "The use of the bracket notation, which has led some authors to term
this the #rac$et function, stems back to the work of Gauss (1808) in number theory. The function is
also referred to by Legendre who used the now obsolete notation "(x)."
Use of arro9s' Saunders Mc Lane, in (ategories for the %or$ing mathematician (Springer-Verlag,
1971, p. 29), says: "The fundamental idea of representing a function by an arrow first appeared in
topology about 1940, probably in papers or lectures by W. Hurewicz on relative homotopy groups.
(Hurewicz, W.: "On duality theorems," Bull! Am! Math! .oc! 47, 562-563) His initiative immediately
attracted the attention of R. H. Fox and N. E. Steenrod, whose ... paper used arrows and (implicitly)
functors... The arrow f: : X (arrow) Y rapidly displaced the occasional notation f(X) (subset of ) Y for
a function. t expressed well a central interest of topology. Thus a notation (the arrow) led to a
concept (category)". [Arturo Mena]
Si)%, or si)%um, fu%ctio%' The symbol [a], to represent 0, 1, or -1, according to whether a is 0,
positive, or negative, was introduced by Leopold Kronecker (1823-1891). He wrote:
Bezeichnet man naemlich mit [a] den Werth Null oder +1 oder -1, je nachdem die reelle
Groesse a selbst gleich Null oder positiv oder negativ ist ... [February 14, 1878]
This citation was provided by Julio Gonzlez Cabilln
Earliest Uses of Symbols from :eometry
+ast reisionB August ;:, ;EE8
etteri%) of )eometric fi)ures' The designation of points, lines, and planes by a letter or letters
was in vogue among the ancient Greeks and has been traced back to Hippocrates of Chios (about
440 B. C.) (Cajori vol. 1, page 420, attributed to Moritz Cantor).
etteri%) of tria%)les' Richard Rawlinson in a pamphlet prepared at Oxford sometime between
1655 and 1668 used A, B, ( for the sides of a triangle and a, #, c for the opposite angles. n his
notation, A was the largest side and ( the smallest (Cajori vol. 2, page 162).
Leonhard Euler and Thomas Simpson reintroduced this scheme many years later, Euler using it in
1753 in Histoire de l3acad@mie de Berlin (Cajori vol 2., page 162). Euler used capital letters for the
angles.
n 1866, Karl Theodor Reye (1838-1919) proposed the plan of using capital letters for points, lower
case letters for lines, and lower case Greek letters for planes in a remarkable two-volume work on
geometry, )ie 2eometrie der +age (Cajori vol. 1, page 423).
As early as 1618, an anonymous writer of the "Appendix" in the 1618 edition of Edward Wright's
translation of John Napier's "Mirifici logarithmorum canonis descriptio" labeled the right angle of a
triangle with the letter A:
t will bee conuenient in euery calculation, to haue in your view a triangle, described
according to the present occasion: and if it bee a right angled triangle, to note it with Letters
A.B.C: so that A may bee alwayes the right angle; B the angle at the Base B.A and C the
angle at the Cathetus CA [sic].
Cf. page 3 of "An Appendix to the Logarithmes of the Calculation of Triangles, and also a new and
ready way for the exact finding out of such lines and logarithmes as are not precisely to be found in
the Canons", in John Napier's "A description of the Admirable Table of Logarithmes ...", London,
Printed for Simon Waterson, 1618
James W. L. Glaisher (1848-1928) has remarked that the letter A is taken to be the right angle in
the right-angled triangle AB( in order that BA may represent the BAse, and (A the CAthetus, the
first two initials indicating the words. The fact that this lettering was also employed by William
Oughtred (1574-1660) in his books is one of the many arguments in support that Oughtred might be
the author of the "Appendix" (Cajori vol. 2, p. 154).
A%)le' Pierre Hrigone (1580-1643) used both and < in (ursus mathematicus! This work was
published in 1634 and in a second edition in 1644. Cajori lists the symbols from the 1644 edition,
which shows both angle symbols (Cajori vol. 1, page 202).
Arc' The arc symbol appears in the middle of the twelfth century in Plato of Tivoli's translation of the
+i#er em#adorum by Savasorda (Cajori vol. 1, page 402).
Circle' Heron used a modified circle with a dot in the center to represent a circle around A. D. 150
(Cajori vol. 1, page 401).
Pappus used a circle with and without a dot in the center to represent a circle in the fourth century
A. D. (Cajori vol. 1, page 401).
Tria%)le' Heron about A. D. 150 used a triangle as a symbol for triangle (Cajori).
Co%)rue%ce' Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) introduced for congruence in an unpublished
manuscript of 1679 (Cajori vol. 1, page 414).
The first appearance in print of Leibniz' sign for congruence was in 1710 in the Miscellanea
Berolinensia in the anonymous article "Monitum," which is attributed to Leibniz (Cajori vol. 2, page
195).
n 1777, Johann Friedrich Hseler (1732-1797) used (with the tilde reversed) in Anfangsgrnde
der Arith!, Alg!, 2eom! und &rig! (Lemgo), "lementar>2eometrie (Cajori vol. 1, page 415).
n 1824 Carl Brandan Mollweide (1774-1825) used the modern congruent symbol in "u$lid3s
"lemente (Cajori vol. 1, page 415).
Ra+ius' Leonhard Euler introduced the use of R for the radius of the circumscribed circle and r for
the radius of the inscribed circle (Boyer, page 495).
De)rees' The symbols for degrees, minutes, and seconds were used by Claudius Ptolemy (c. 85-c.
165) in the Almagest. However, the notation differed somewhat from the modern notation, and
according to Cajori (vol. 2, page 143), "it is difficult to uphold" the view that our signs for degrees,
minutes, and seconds are of Greek origin.
The first modern appearance of the degree symbol Cajori found is in the revised 1569 edition of
2emma 6risius, Arithmeticae practicae moethodus facilis by Gemma Frisius (1508-1555), although
the symbol appears in the Appendix on astronomical fractions due to Jacques Peletier (1517-1582)
and dated 1558. Cajori writes:
This is the first modern appearance that have found of for integra or "degrees." t is
explained that the denomination of the product of two such denominate numbers is
obtained by combining the denominations of the factors; minutes times seconds give
thirds, because 1+2=3. The denomination for integers or degrees is necessary to impart
generality to this mode or procedure. "ntegers when multiplied by seconds make seconds,
when multiplied by thirds make thirds" (fol. 62, 76). t is possible that Peletier is the
originator of the for degrees. But nowhere in this book have been able to find the
modern angular notation ' " used in writing angles. The is used only in multiplication.
Erasmus Reinhold (1511-1553) used ' " in ,rtenicae ta#ulae coelestium motuum published in
1571 (Cajori).
i%e se)me%t' A bar above AB to indicate line segment AB was used in 1647 by Bonaventura
Cavalieri (1598-1647) in 2eometria indiisi#ili#ae and "xercitationes geometriae sex, according to
Cajori.
Slo*e' The earliest known use of m for slope appears in Vincenzo Riccati's memoir )e methodo
Hermanni ad locos geometricos resolendos, which is chapter X of the first part of his book
5incentii Riccati ?pusculorum ad res ,hysica, K Mathematicas pertinentium (1757):
Propositio prima. Aequationes primi gradus construere. Ut Hermanni methodo utamor,
danda est aequationi hujusmodi forma y = mx + n, quod semper fieri posse certum est. (p.
151)
The reference is to the Swiss mathematician Jacob Hermann (1678-1733). This use of m was found
by Dr. Sandro Caparrini of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Torino.
n 1830, &raite "lementaire )3Arithmeti-ue, Al3Asage )e +3"cole (entrale des Luatre>NationsB ,ar
.!6! +a(roix, )ix>Huitieme "dition has y = ax + # [Karen Dee Michalowicz].
Another use of m occurs in 1842 in An "lementary &reatise on the )ifferential (alculus by Rev.
Matthew O'Brien, from the bottom of page 1: "Thus in the general equation to a right line, namely y
= mx + c, if we suppose the line..." [Dave Cohen].
O'Brien used m for slope again in 1844 in A &reatise on ,lane (o>?rdinate 2eometry [V. Frederick
Rickey].
George Salmon (1819-1904), an rish mathematician, used y = mx + # in his A &reatise on (onic
.ections, which was published in several editions beginning in 1848. Salmon referred in several
places to O'Brien's (onic .ections and it may be that he adopted O'Brien's notation. Salmon used a
to denote the x-intercept, and gave the equation (x/a) + (y/b) = 1 [David Wilkins].
Karen Dee Michalowicz has found an 1848 British analytic geometry text which has y = mx + h!
The 1855 edition of saac Todhunter's &reatise on ,lane (o>?rdinate 2eometry has y = mx + c
[Dave Cohen].
n 1891, )ifferential and 1ntegral (alculus by George A. Osborne has y - y3 = m(x - x3).
n 'e#ster3s Ne% 1nternational )ictionary (1909), the "slope form" is y = sx + #!
n 1921, in An 1ntroduction to Mathematical Analysis by Frank Loxley Griffin, the equation is written
y = lx + $!
n Analytic 2eometry (1924) by Arthur M. Harding and George W. Mullins, the "slope-intercept form"
is y = mx + #!
n A Brief (ourse in Adanced Alge#ra by Buchanan and others (1937), the "slope form" is y = mx +
$!
According to Erland Gadde, in Swedish textbooks the equation is usually written as y = $x + m! He
writes that the technical Swedish word for "slope" is "riktningskoefficient", which literally means
"direction coefficient," and he supposes $ comes from "koefficient."
According to Dick Klingens, in the Netherlands the equation is usually written as y = ax + # or px +
- or mx + n! He writes that the Dutch word for slope is "richtingscofficint", which literally means
"direction coefficient."
n Austria $ is used for the slope, and d for the y-intercept.
According to Julio Gonzlez Cabilln, in Uruguay the equation is usually written as y = ax + # or y =
mx + n, and slope is called "pendiente," "coeficiente angular," or "parametro de direccion."
According to George Zeliger, "in Russian textbooks the equation was frequently written as y = $x +
#, especially when plotting was involved. Since in Russian the slope is called 'the angle coefficient'
and the word coefficient is spelled with $ in the Cyrillic alphabet, usually nobody questioned the use
of $! The use of # is less clear."
t is not known why the letter m was chosen for slope; the choice may have been arbitrary. John
Conway has suggested m could stand for "modulus of slope." One high school algebra textbook
says the reason for m is unknown, but remarks that it is interesting that the French word for "to
climb" is monter! However, there is no evidence to make any such connection. Descartes, who was
French, did not use m! n Mathematical (ircles Reisited (1971) mathematics historian Howard W.
Eves suggests "it just happened."
!arallelism' Two vertical bars, written horizontally and resembling the modern equal sign, were
used by Heron about A. D. 150 and by Pappus (Cajori).
Thee parallel symbol written vertically was first used by William Oughtred (1574-1660) in ?puscula
Mathematica Hactenus 1nedita, which was published posthumously in 1677 (Cajori vol. 1, page
193).
John Kersey (1616-1677) also used the vertical parallel symbol. He used it after Oughtred, but in a
work which was published before Oughtred. He used the symbol in Alge#ra, which was published in
1673. Kersey switched the lines from horizontal to vertical because of the adoption of the equal
symbol (Cajori vol. 1, page 411).
!er*e%+icularity' was first used by Pierre Hrigone (1580-1643) in 1634 in (ursus
mathematicus, which was published in five volumes from 1634 to 1637 (Cajori vol. 1, page 408).
Johnson (page 149) says, "Herigone introduced so many new symbols in this six-volume work that
some suggest that the introduction of these symbols, rather than an effective mathematics text, was
his goal."
Ri)ht a%)le' was used by Pappus (Cajori vol. 1, page 401).
Semi&*erimeter' A capital . was first used by Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) in 1750 (Cajori 1919,
page 235).
Similarity' ~ was introduced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) in a manuscripts of 1679
which were not published by him. The symbol was an S for similis, written sideways. The original
manuscripts do not survive and it is uncertain whether the symbol Leibniz first used resembled the
tilde or the tilde inverted (Cajori vol. 1, page 414).
n the manuscript of his (haracteristica 2eometrica he wrote: "similitudinem ita notabimus: a ~ #"
(Cajor vol. 1, page 414).
The first appearance in print of Leibniz' sign for similarity was in 1710 in the Miscellanea
Berolinensia in the anonymous article "Monitum," which is attributed to Leibniz (Cajori vol. 2, page
195).
S'S'S', S'D'S', and D'S'D' for the triangle congruence theorems and axioms were invented by
Julius Worpitzky (1835-1895), professor at the Friedrich Werder Gymnasium in Berlin (Cajori vol. 1,
page 424). (W for 'in$el=angle)
An article in &he Mathematics &eacher in March 1938 uses a.s.a. = a.s.a. and s.s.s. = s.s.s. and
s.a.a. = s.a.a. as reasons in a proof. An article in the same journal in 1940 uses C.p.c.t.e., which is
written out as "Corresponding parts of congruent triangles are equal."
An article in &he Mathematics &eacher in April 1948 has: "The three common theorems on
congruence of triangles (SAS = SAS; ASA = ASA; SSS = SSS) are 'proved' by superposition."
Earliest Uses of Symbols for Tri)o%ometric a%+ (y*erbolic 6u%ctio%s
+ast reisionB ?ct! 8, ;EEE
Si%e' n 1583, Thomas Fincke (or Finck) (1561-1656) used sin. (with a period) in Book 14 of his
2eometria rotundi! Cajori writes that "perhaps the first use of abbreviations for the trigonometric
lines goes back to ... Finck" (Cajori vol. 2, page 150).
n 1624, Edmund Gunter (1581-1626) used sin (without a period) in a drawing representing
Gunter's scale (Cajori vol. 2, page 156). However, the symbol does not appear in Gunter's work
published the same year.
n 1626, Girard designated the sine of A by A, and the cosine of A by a (Smith vol. 2, page 618).
n a trigonometry published by Richard Norwood in London in 1631, the author states that "in these
examples s stands for sine: t for tangent: sc for sine complement: tc for tangent complement: sc for
sine complement: tc for tangent complement : sec for secant" (Smith vol. 2, page 618).
n 1632, William Oughtred (1574-1660) used sin (without a period) in Addition nto the 5se of the
1nstrment called the (ircles of ,roportion (Cajori vol. 1, page 193, and vol. 2, page 158).
According to Smith (vol. 2, page 618), "the first writer to use the symbol sin for sine in a book seems
to have been the French mathematician Hrigone (1634)." However, the use by Oughtred would
seem to predate that of Hrigone.
Cosi%e' n his 2eometria rotundi (1588) Thomas Fincke used sin. com. for the cosine.
n 1674, Sir Jonas Moore (1617-1679) used Cos. in Mathematical (ompendium (Cajori vol. 2, page
163).
Samuel Jeake (1623-1690) used cos. in Arithmetic$, published in 1696 (Cajori vol. 2, page 163).
The earliest use of cos Cajori shows apparently is by Leonhard Euler in 1729 in (ommentarii
Academiae .cient! ,etropollitanae, ad annum 8<;D (Cajori vol. 2, page 166).
Ball and Asimov say cos was first used by William Oughtred (1574-1660). Ball gives the date 1657;
Asimov gives 1631. However, Cajori indicates Oughtred used only sco for cosine (Cajori vol. 1,
page 193) and Cajori reports Glaisher says Oughtred did not even use the word cosine.
Ta%)e%t' n 1583, Thomas Fincke (1561-1656) used tan. in Book 14 of his 2eometria rotundi
(Cajori vol. 2, page 150). Fincke also used tang.
n 1632, William Oughtred (1574-1660) used tan in &he (ircles of ,roportion (Cajori vol. 1, page
193).
Seca%t' n 1583, Thomas Fincke (1561-1656) used sec. in Book 14 of his 2eometria rotundi (Cajori
vol. 2, page 150).
n 1632, William Oughtred (1574-1660) used sec in &he (ircles of ,roportion (Cajori vol. 1, page
193).
Coseca%t' n his 2eometria rotundi (1588), Thomas Fincke used sec. com. for the cosecant (Cajori
vol. 2, page 150).
Samuel Jeake in his Arithmetic$ (1696) used cosec. for cosecant (Cajori vol. 2, page 163).
Simon Klgel in Analytische &rigonometrie (1770) used cosec for cosecant.
t appears that the earliest use Cajori shows for csc is in 1881 in &reatise on &rigonometry, by
Oliver, Wait, and Jones (Cajori vol. 2, page 171).
Cota%)e%t' n his 2eometria rotundi (1588), Thomas Fincke used tan. com. for the cotangent
(Cajori vol. 2, page 150).
n 1674, Sir Jonas Moore (1617-1679) used Cot. in Mathematical (ompendium (Cajori vol. 2, page
163).
Samuel Jeake in his Arithmetic$ (1696) used cot. for cotangent (Cajori vol. 2, page 163).
A. G. Kstner in Anfangsgrnde der Arithmeti$, 2eometrie !!! &rigonometrie (1758) used cot
for cotangent (Cajori vol. 2, page 166).
B.
Cis %otatio%' rving Stringham used cis (beta) for cos (beta) + i sin (beta) in 1893 in Aniplanar
Alge#ra (Cajori vol. 2, page 133).
I%5erse tri)o%ometric fu%ctio% symbols' Except where noted otherwise, the following citations
are from Cajori vol. 2, page 175-76.
Daniel Bernoulli was the first to use symbols for the inverse trigonometric functions. n 1729 he
used A S. for arcsine in (omment! acad! sc! ,etrop!, Vol. .
n 1736 Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) used A t for arctangent in Mechanica sie motus scientia!
Later in the same publication he used simply A
n 1737 Euler used A sin for arcsine in (ommentarii academiae ,etropolitanae ad annum 8<G<,
Vol. X.
n 1769 Antoine-Nicolas Caritat Marquis de Condorcet (1743-1794) used arc (sin. = x) (Katz, page
42).
n 1772 Carl Scherffer used arc. tang. in 1nstitutionum analyticarum pars secunda!
n 1772 Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813) used arc. sin in Noueaux memoires de l3academie r!
d! sciences et #elles>lettres!
According to Cajori (vol. 2, page 176) the inverse trigonometric function notation utilizing the
exponent
-1
was introduced by John Frederick William Herschel in 1813 in the ,hilosophical
&ransactions of +ondon! A full-page footnote explained his choice of notation for the inverse
trigonometric functions, such as cos.
-1
e, which he used in the body of the article (Cajori vol. 2, page
176).
However, according to )ifferential and 1ntegral (alculus (1908) by Daniel A. Murray, "this notation
was explained in England first by J. F. W. Herschell in 1813, and at an earlier date in Germany by
an analyst named Burmann. See Herschell, A (ollection of "xamples of the Application of the
(alculus of 6inite )ifferences (Cambridge, 1820), page 5, note."
According to Cajori, in France, Jules Houl (1823-1886) used arcsin.
n 1914, ,lane &rigonometry by George Wentworth and David Eugene Smith has:
n American and English books the symbol sin
-1
y is generally used; on the continent of Europe the
symbol arc sin y is the one that is met. The symbol sin
-1
y is read "the inverse sine of y," "the
antisine of y," or "the angle whose sine is y!" The symbol arc sin y is read "the arc whose sine is y,"
or "the angle whose sine is y!"
n 1922 in 1ntroduction to the (alculus, William F. Osgood wrote, "The usual notation on the
Continent for sin
-1
, x, tan
-1
x, etc., is arc sin x, arc tan x, etc. t is clumsy, and is followed for a purely
academic reason; namely, that sin
-1
x might be misunderstood as meaning the minus first power of
sin x! t is seldom that one has occasion to write the reciprocal of sin x in terms of a negative
exponent. When one wishes to do so, all ambiguity can be avoided by writing (sin x)
-1
."
!o9ers of tri)o%ometric fu%ctio%s' The practice of placing the exponent beside the symbol for
the trigonometric function to indicate, for example, the square of the sine of x, was used by William
Jones in 1710. He wrote cs
2
(for cosine) and s
2
(for sine) (Cajori vol. 2, page 179).
De)rees, mi%utes, seco%+s' See the geometry page.
Ra+ia%s' G. B. Halstead in Mensuration (1881) suggested using the Greek letter rho to indicate
radians.
G. N. Bauer and W. E. Brooke in ,lane and .pherical &rigonometry (1907) suggested the use of
r

(the lower case r in a raised position) to indicate radians.
A. G. Hall and F. G. Frink in ,lane &rigonometry (1909) suggested the use of
R
(the capital R in a
raised position).
P. R. Rider and A. Davis in ,lane &rigonometry (1923) suggested the use of
(r)
(the lower case r in
parentheses) to indicate radians.
(y*erbolic fu%ctio%s' Vincenzo Riccati (1707-1775), who introduced the hyperbolic functions,
used Sh. and Ch. for hyperbolic sine and cosine (Cajori vol. 2, page 172). He used Sc. and Cc. for
the circular functions.
Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777) further developed the theory of hyperbolic functions in
Histoire de l3acad@mie Royale des sciences et des #elles>lettres de Berlin, vol. XXV, p. 327 (1768).
According to Cajori (vol. 2, page 172), Lambert used sin h and cos h.
According to Scott (page 190), Lambert began using sinh and cosh in 1771.
According to 'e#ster3s Ne% 1nternational )ictionary, 2nd. ed., sinh is an abbreviation for sinus
hyper#olus!
n 1902, George M. Minchin proposed using hysin, hycos, hytan, etc.: "f the prefix hy were put to
each of the trigonometric functions, all the names would be pronounceable and not too long." The
proposal appeared in Nature, vol. 65 (April 10, 1902).
Earliest Uses of Symbols of Calculus
+ast reisionB April 8E, ;EE8
Deri5ati5e' The symbols dx, dy, and dxMdy were introduced by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-
1716) in a manuscript of November 11, 1675 (Cajori vol. 2, page 204).
f3(x) for the first derivative, f33(x) for the second derivative, etc., were introduced by Joseph Louis
Lagrange (1736-1813). n 1797 in&h@orie des fonctions analyti-ues the symbols f3x and f33x are
found; in the ?eures, Vol. X, "which purports to be a reprint of the 1806 edition, on p. 15, 17, one
finds the corresponding parts given as f(x), f3(x), f33(x), f333(x)" (Cajori vol. 2, page 207).
n 1770 Joseph Louis Lagrange (1736-1813) wrote for in his memoir Nouelle m@thode pour
r@soudre les @-uations litt@rales par le moyen des s@ries! The notation also occurs in a memoir by
Franois Daviet de Foncenex in 1759 believed actually to have been written by Lagrange (Cajori
1919, page 256).
n 1772 Lagrange wrote u3 = du/dx and du = u3dx in "Sur une nouvelle espce de calcul relatif la
diffrentiation et l'integration des quantits variables," Noueaux Memoires de l3Academie royale
des .ciences et Belles>+ettres de Berlin!
was introduced by Louis Franois Antoine Arbogast (1759-1803) in "De Calcul des drivations
et ses usages dans la thorie des suites et dans le calcul diffrentiel," Strasbourg, xxii, pp. 404,
mpr. de Levrault, frres, an V (1800). (This information comes from Julio Gonzlez Cabilln;
Cajori indicates in his History of Mathematics that Arbogast introduced this symbol, but it seems he
does not show this symbol in A History of Mathematical Notations!)
) was used by Arbogast in the same work, although this symbol had previously been used by
Johann Bernoulli (Cajori vol. 2, page 209). Bernoulli used the symbol in a non-operational sense
(Maor, page 97).
!artial +eri5ati5e' The "curly d" was used in 1770 by Antoine-Nicolas Caritat, Marquis de
Condorcet (1743-1794) in "Memoire sur les Equations aux diffrence partielles," which was
published in Histoire de +3Academie Royale des .ciences, pp. 151-178, Annee M. DCCLXX
(1773). On page 152, Condorcet says:
Dans toute la suite de ce Memoire, d= & = dsigneront ou deux differences partielles de
=,, dont une par rapport a x, l'autre par rapport a y, ou bien d= sera une diffrentielle
totale, & = une difference partielle. [Throughout this paper, both d= & = will either
denote two partial differences of =, where one of them is with respect to x, and the other,
with respect to y, or d= and = will be employed as symbols of total differential, and of
partial difference, respectively.]
However, the "curly d" was first used in the form by Adrien Marie Legendre in 1786 in his
"Memoire sur la manire de distinguer les maxima des minima dans le Calcul des Variations,"
Histoire de l3Academie Royale des .ciences, Annee M. DCCLXXXV (1786), pp. 7-37, Paris, M.
DCCXXXV (1788). On page 8, it reads:
Pour viter toute ambiguit, je rpresentarie par le coefficient de x dans la diffrence de u, &
par la diffrence complte de u divise par dx!
Legendre abandoned the symbol and it was re-introduced by Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi in 1841.
Jacobi used it extensively in his remarkable paper "De determinantibus Functionalibus" [appeared
in Crelle's Journal, Band 22, pp. 319-352, 1841].
Sed quia uncorum accumulatio et legenti et scribenti molestior fieri solet, praetuli characteristica
d
differentialia vulgaria, differentialia autem partialia characteristica
denotare.
The "curly d" symbol is sometimes called the "rounded d" or "curved d" or /aco#i3s delta! t
corresponds to the cursive "dey" (equivalent to our d) in the Cyrillic alphabet.
I%te)ral' Before introducing the integral symbol, Leibniz wrote omn. for "omnia" in front of the term
to be integrated.
The integral symbol was first used by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) on October 29, 1675,
in an unpublished manuscript. Several weeks later, on Nov. 21, he first placed dx after the integral
symbol (Burton, page 359). Later in 1675, he proposed the use of the symbol in a letter to Henry
Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society: "Utile erit scribi pro omnia, ut l = omn. l, id est summa
ipsorum l" [t will be useful to write for omn. so that l = omn. l, or the sum of all the l's.] The first
appearance of the integral symbol in print was in a paper by Leibniz in the Acta "ruditorum! The
integral symbol was actually a long letter S for "summa."
n his Luadratura curarum of 1704, Newton wrote a small vertical bar above x to indicate the
integral of x. He wrote two side-by-side vertical bars over x to indicate the integral of (x with a single
bar over it). Another notation he used was to enclose the term in a rectangle to indicate its integral.
Cajori writes that Newton's symbolism for integration was defective because the x with a bar could
be misinterpreted as x-prime and the placement of a rectangle about the term was difficult for the
printer, and that therefore Newton's symbolism was never popular, even in England.
imits of i%te)ratio%' Limits of integration were first indicated only in words. Euler was the first to
use a symbol in 1nstitutiones calculi integralis, where he wrote the limits in brackets and used the
Latin words a# and ad (Cajori vol. 2, page 249).
The modern definite integral symbol was originated by Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (1768-1830).
n 1822 in his famous &he Analytical &heory of Heat he wrote:
Nous dsignons en gnral par le signe l'intgrale qui commence lorsque la variable quivaut
a, et qui est complte lorsque la variable quivaut #. . .
The citation above is from "Thorie analytique de la chaleur" [The Analytical Theory of Heat], Firmin
Didot, Paris, 1822, page 226 (paragraph 231.
Fourier had used this notation somewhat earlier in the M@moires of the French Academy for 1819-
20, in an article of which the early part of his book of 1822 is a reprint (Cajori vol. 2 page 250).
The bar %otatio% to indicate evaluation of an antiderivative at the two limits of integration was first
used by Pierre Frederic Sarrus (1798-1861) in 1823 in Gergonne's Annales, Vol. XV. The notation
was used later by Moigno and Cauchy (Cajori vol. 2, page 250).
I%te)ratio% arou%+ a close+ *ath' Dan Ruttle, a reader of this page, has found a use of the
integral symbol with a circle in the middle by Arnold Sommerfeld (1868-1951) in 1917 in Annalen
der ,hysi$, "Die Drudesche Dispersionstheorie vom Standpunkte des Bohrschen Modelles und die
Konstitution von H2, O2 und N2." This use is earlier than the 1923 use shown by Cajori. Ruttle
reports that J. W. Gibbs used only the standard integral sign in his "lements of 5ector Analysis
(1881-1884), and that and E. B. Wilson used a small circle below the standard integral symbol to
denote integration around a closed curve in his 5ector Analysis (1901, 1909) and in Adanced
(alculus (1911, 1912).
imit' lim. (with a period) was used first by Simon-Antoine-Jean L'Huilier (1750-1840). n 1786,
L'Huilier gained much popularity by winning the prize offered by *l'Academie royale des Sciences et
Belles-Lettres de Berlin*. His essay, "Exposition lmentaire des principes des calculs superieurs,"
accepted the challenge thrown by the Academy -- a clear and precise theory on the nature of
infinity. On page 31 of this remarkable paper, L'Huilier states:
Pour abreger & pour faciliter le calcul par une notation plus commode, on est convenu de dsigner
autrement que par
,
la limite du rapport des changements simultanes de , & de x, favoir par
;
en sorte que
ou
;
designent la mme chose
lim (without a period) was written in 1841 Karl Weierstrass (1815-1897) in one of his papers
published in 1894 in Mathematische 'er$e, Band , page 60 (Cajori vol. 2, page 255).
The arrow notation for limits was introduced by Godfrey Harold Hardy (1877-1947) in his
remarkable "A Course of Pure Mathematics," Cambridge: At the University Press, xv, pp. 428,
1908. Check the preface of this first edition (Julio Gonzlez Cabilln and Cajori vol. 2, page 257).
I%fi%ity' The infinity symbol was introduced by John Wallis (1616-1703) in 1655 in his )e
sectioni#us conicis (On Conic Sections) as follows:
Suppono in limine (juxta^ Bonaventurae Cavallerii 2eometriam 1ndiisi#ilium)
Planum quodlibet quasi ex infinitis lineis parallelis conflari: Vel potiu\s (quod ego
mallem) ex infinitis Prallelogrammis [sic] aeque\ altis; quorum quidem singulorum
altitudo sit totius altitudinis 1/ , sive alicuota pars infinite parva; (esto enim nota
numeri infiniti;) adeo/q; omnium simul altitude aequalis altitudini figurae.
Wallis also used the infinity symbol in various passages of his Arithmetica infinitorum (Arithmetic of
nfinites) (1655 or 1656). For instance, he wrote (p. 70):
Cum enim primus terminus in serie Primanorum sit 0, primus terminus in serie
reciproca erit vel infinitus: (sicut, in divisione, si diviso sit 0, quotiens erit infinitus)
n *ero to +a=y "ight, Alexander Humez, Nicholas Humez, and Joseph Maguire write: "Wallis was a
classical scholar and it is possible that he derived from the old Roman sign for 1,000, CD, also
written M--though it is also possible that he got the idea from the lowercase omega, omega being
the last letter of the Greek alphabet and thus a metaphor of long standing for the upper limit, the
end."
Cajori (vol. 2, p 44) says the conjecture has been made that Wallis adopted this symbol from the
late Roman symbol for 1,000. He attributes the conjecture to Wilhelm Wattenbach (1819-1897),
Anleitung =ur lateinischen ,alNographie 2. Aufl., Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1872. Appendix: p. 41.
This conjecture is lent credence by the labels inscribed on a Roman hand abacus stored at the
Bibliothque Nationale in Paris. A plaster cast of this abacus is shown in a photo on page 305 of the
English translation of Karl Menninger's Num#er 'ords and Num#er .ym#ols; at the time, the cast
was held in the Cabinet des Mdailles in Paris. The photo reveals that the column devoted to 1000
on this abacus is inscribed with a symbol quite close in shape to the lemniscate symbol, and which
Menninger shows would easily have evolved into the symbol M, the eventual Roman symbol for
1000 [Randy K. Schwartz]. [Julio Gonzlez Cabilln contributed to this entry.]
Delta to i%+icate a small 8ua%tity' n 1706, Johann Bernoulli used the Greek letter delta to denote
the difference of functions. Julio Gonzlez Cabilln believes this is probably one of the first if not the
first use of delta in this sense.
Delta a%+ e*silo%' Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789-1857) used epsilon in 1821 in (ours d3analyse,
and sometimes used delta instead (Cajori vol. 2, page 256). According to Finney and Thomas (page
113), "[delta] meant "diffrence" (French for difference and [epsilon] meant "erreur" (French for
error).
The first theorem on limits that Cauchy sets out to prove in the (ours d3Analyse (Oeuvres .3, p.
54) has as hypothesis that for increasing values of x, the difference f(x+1) - f(x) converges to a
certain limit k.
The proof then begins by saying
denote by [epsilon] a number as small as one may wish. Since the increasing values of x make the
difference f(x+1) - f(x) converge to the limit k, one can assign a sufficiently substantial value to a
number h so that, for x bigger than or equal to h, the difference in question is always between the
bounds k - [epsilon], k + [epsilon]. [William C. Waterhouse]
The first delta-epsilon proof is Cauchy's proof of what is essentially the mean-value theorem for
derivatives. t comes from his lectures on the Calcul infinitesimal, 1823, Leon 7, in Oeuvres, Ser. 2,
vol. 4, pp. 44-45. The proof translates Cauchy's verbal definition of the derivative as the limit (when
it exists) of the quotient of the differences into the language of algebraic inequalities using both
delta and epsilon. n the 1820s Cauchy did not specify on what, given an epsilon, his delta or n
depended, so one can read his proofs as holding for all values of the variable. Thus he does not
make the distinction between converging to a limit pointwise and convering to it uniformly.
[Judith V. Grabiner, author of &he ?rigins of (auchy3s Rigorous (alculus (MT, 1981)]
Nabla' The vector differential operator (also called del or atled) was introduced by William Rowan
Hamilton (1805-1865).
David Wilkins suggests that Hamilton may have used the nabla as a general purpose symbol or
abbreviation for whatever operator he wanted to introduce at any time.
n 1837 Hamilton used the nabla, in its modern orientation, as a symbol for any arbitrary function in
&rans! R! 1rish Acad! XV. 236. This information is taken from the OED2 entry on na#la!
Hamilton used the nabla to signify a permutation operator in "On the Argument of Abel, respecting
the mpossibility of expressing a Root of any General Equation above the Fourth Degree, by any
finite Combination of Radicals and Rational Functions," &ransactions of the Royal 1rish Academy,
18 (1839), pp. 171-259.
Hamilton used the nabla, rotated 90 degrees, for the vector differential operator in the "Proceedings
of the Royal rish Academy" for the meeting of July 20, 1846. This paper appeared in volume 3
(1847), pp. 273-292.
According to Stein and Barcellos (page 836), Hamilton denoted the gradient with an ordinary capital
delta in 1846. However, this information may be incorrect, as David Wilkins writes that he has never
seen the gradient denoted by an ordinary capital delta in any paper of Hamilton published in his
lifetime.
Hamilton also used the nabla as the vector differential operator, rotated 90 degrees, in "On
Quaternions; or on a new System of maginaries in Algebra"; which he published in installments in
the ,hilosophical Maga=ine between 1844 and 1850. The relevant portion of the paper consists of
articles 49-50, in the installment which appeared in October 1847 in volume 31 (3rd series, 1847) of
the Philosophical Magazine, pp. 278-283.
A footnote in vol. 31, page 291, reads:
n that paper designed for Southampton the characteristic was written ; but this more common
sign has been so often used with other meanings, that it seems desirable to abstain from
appropriating it to the new signification here proposed.
Wilkins writes that "that paper" refers to an unpublished paper that Hamilton had prepared for a
meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, but which had been forwarded
by mistake to Sir John Herschel's home address, not to the meeting itself in Southampton, and
which therefore was not communicated at that meeting. The footnote indicates that Hamilton had
originally intended to use the nabla symbol that is used today but then decided to rotate it through
90 degrees to avoid confusion with other uses of the symbol.
Cajori (vol. 2, page 135) writes that Hamilton introduced the operator, and a footnote references
+ectures on Luaternions (1853), page 610. The OED2 indicates that the nabla appears, rotated 90
degrees in +ect! Luaternions vii. 610.
David Wilkins of the School of Mathematics at Trinity College in Dublin has made available texts of
the mathematical papers published by Hamilton in his lifetime at his History of Mathematics website.
:ra+ie%t' Maxwell and Riemann-Weber used grad as an abbreviation or symbol for gradient (Cajori
vol. 2, page 135).
Di5er)e%ce' William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) used the term divergence and wrote di u or d
u (Cajori vol. 2, page 135).
a*lacia% o*erator' The capital delta for
2
was introduced by Robert Murphy in 1883 (Kline, page
786).
I%fi%ity' The infinity symbol was introduced by John Wallis (1616-1703) in 1655 in his )e
sectioni#us conicis (On Conic Sections) as follows:
Suppono in limine (juxta^ Bonaventurae Cavallerii 2eometriam 1ndiisi#ilium) Planum quodlibet
quasi ex infinitis lineis parallelis conflari: Vel potiu\s (quod ego mallem) ex infinitis Prallelogrammis
[sic] aeque\ altis; quorum quidem singulorum altitudo sit totius altitudinis 1/ , sive alicuota pars
infinite parva; (esto enim nota numeri infiniti;) adeo/q; omnium simul altitude aequalis altitudini
figurae.
Wallis also used the infinity symbol in various passages of his Arithmetica infinitorum (Arithmetic of
nfinites) (1655 or 1656). For instance, he wrote (p. 70):
Cum enim primus terminus in serie Primanorum sit 0, primus terminus in serie reciproca erit vel
infinitus: (sicut, in divisione, si diviso sit 0, quotiens erit infinitus)
n *ero to +a=y "ight, Alexander Humez, Nicholas Humez, and Joseph Maguire write: "Wallis was a
classical scholar and it is possible that he derived from the old Roman sign for 1,000, CD, also
written M--though it is also possible that he got the idea from the lowercase omega, omega being
the last letter of the Greek alphabet and thus a metaphor of long standing for the upper limit, the
end."
Cajori (vol. 2, p 44) says the conjecture has been made that Wallis adopted this symbol from the
late Roman symbol for 1,000. He attributes the conjecture to Wilhelm Wattenbach (1819-1897),
Anleitung =ur lateinischen ,alNographie 2. Aufl., Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1872. Appendix: p. 41.
This conjecture is lent credence by the labels inscribed on a Roman hand abacus stored at the
Bibliothque Nationale in Paris. A plaster cast of this abacus is shown in a photo on page 305 of the
English translation of Karl Menninger's Num#er 'ords and Num#er .ym#ols; at the time, the cast
was held in the Cabinet des Mdailles in Paris. The photo reveals that the column devoted to 1000
on this abacus is inscribed with a symbol quite close in shape to the lemniscate symbol, and which
Menninger shows would easily have evolved into the symbol M, the eventual Roman symbol for
1000 [Randy K. Schwartz]. [Julio Gonzlez Cabilln contributed to this entry.]
VECTOR CACUUS SYMBOS
The vector differential operator, now written and called na#la or del, was introduced by William
Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865). Hamilton wrote the operator as and it was P. G. Tait who
established as the conventional symbol--see his An "lementary &reatise on Luaternions (1867).
Tait was also responsible for establishing the term na#la. See NABLA on the Earliest Uses of
Words page.
David Wilkins suggests that Hamilton may have used the nabla as a general purpose symbol or
abbreviation for whatever operator he wanted to introduce at any time. n 1837 Hamilton used the
nabla, in its modern orientation, as a symbol for any arbitrary function in &rans! R! 1rish Acad! XV.
236. (OED.) He used the nabla to signify a permutation operator in "On the Argument of Abel,
respecting the mpossibility of expressing a Root of any General Equation above the Fourth Degree,
by any finite Combination of Radicals and Rational Functions," &ransactions of the Royal 1rish
Academy, 18 (1839), pp. 171-259.
Hamilton used the rotated nabla, i.e. , for the vector differential operator in the "Proceedings of
the Royal rish Academy" for the meeting of July 20, 1846. This paper appeared in volume 3 (1847),
pp. 273-292. Hamilton also used the rotated nabla as the vector differential operator in "On
Quaternions; or on a new System of maginaries in Algebra"; which he published in instalments in
the ,hilosophical Maga=ine between 1844 and 1850. The relevant portion of the paper consists of
articles 49-50, in the instalment which appeared in October 1847 in volume 31 (3rd series, 1847) of
the Philosophical Magazine, pp. 278-283. A footnote in vol. 31, page 291, reads:
n that paper designed for Southampton the characteristic was written ; but this
more common sign has been so often used with other meanings, that it seems
desirable to abstain from appropriating it to the new signification here proposed.
Wilkins writes that "that paper" refers to an unpublished paper that Hamilton had prepared for a
meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, but which had been forwarded
by mistake to Sir John Herschel's home address, not to the meeting itself in Southampton, and
which therefore was not communicated at that meeting. The footnote indicates that Hamilton had
originally intended to use the nabla symbol that is used today but then decided to rotate it to avoid
confusion with other uses of the symbol.
The rotated form appears in Hamilton's magnum opus, the +ectures on Luaternions (1853, p. 610).
Cajori (vol. 2, page 135) and the OED give this reference.
According to Stein and Barcellos (page 836), Hamilton denoted the gradient with an ordinary capital
delta in 1846. However, this information may be incorrect, as David Wilkins writes that he has never
seen the gradient denoted by an ordinary capital delta in any paper of Hamilton published in his
lifetime.
David Wilkins of the School of Mathematics at Trinity College in Dublin has made available texts of
the mathematical papers published by Hamilton in his lifetime at his History of Mathematics website.
Maxwell and Riemann-Weber used grad as a symbol for gradient (Cajori vol. 2, page 135).
William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) used di u or d u as symbols for divergence (Cajori vol. 2,
page 135).
The symbol A for the Laplacian operator (also represented by
2
) was introduced by Robert Murphy
in 1833 in "lementary ,rinciples of the &heories of "lectricity! (Kline, page 786). See LAPLACE'S
OPERATOR on the Earliest Uses of Words page.
Earliest Uses of Symbols of Set Theory a%+ o)ic
+ast updatedB )ec! 8:, ;EEE
I%tersectio% a%+ u%io%' Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932) introduced and in 1888 in (alcolo
geometrico secondo l3Ausdehnungslehre di H! 2rassmann (Cajori vol. 2, page 298).
According to Schwartzman (p. 118) the intersection symbol above dates back to Leibniz "who also
used it to indicate regular multiplication." Cajori says Leibniz used the symbol for multiplication, but
seems not to confirm that he used it for intersection.
E2iste%ce' Peano used in volume , number 1, of his 6ormulaire de mathemati-u@s, which was
published in 1897 (Cajori vol. 2, page 300).
Membershi*' Peano used in the introduction to volume of his 6ormulaire de mathemati-u@s,
which was published in Turin in 1895, although the introduction itself is dated 1894 (Cajori vol. 2,
page 300). The website at the University of St. Andrews states that Peano introduced the symbol in
1889 and that it comes from the first letter if the Greek word meaning "is."
Peano's symbol for membership was an ordinary epsilon ; the stylized epsilon now used was
adopted by Bertrand Russell in ,rinciples of Mathematics in 1903 (Julio Gonzlez Cabilln).
Such that' According to Julio Gonzlez Cabilln, Peano introduced the backwards lower-case
epsilon for "such that" in "Formulaire de Mathematiques vol. , #2" (p. iv, 1898).
Peano introduced the backwards lower-case epsilon for "such that" in his 1889 "Principles of
arithmetic, presented by a new method," according van Heijenoort's 6rom 6rege to 2JdelB A
.ource Boo$ in Mathematical +ogic, 89<D>>8DG8 [Judy Green].
6or all' According to M. J. Cresswell and rving H. Anellis, the upside-down A originated in Gerhard
Gentzen, "Untersuchungen ueber das logische Schliessen," Math. Z. 39 (1934), p, 178. n footnote
4 on that page, Gentzen explains how he came to use the sign. t is the "All-Zeichen," an analogy
with for the existential quantifier which Gentzen says that he borrowed from Russell.
Cajori, however, shows that Peano used before Russell and Whitehead (whose backwards E had
serifs, unlike Peano's).
Braces e%closi%) the eleme%ts of a set' This symbolism was introduced in 1895 by Georg Cantor
(1845-1918). Cantor sets about his famous essay [p. 481] as follows:
Unter einer 'Menge' verstehen wir jede Zusammenfassung M von bestimmten
wohlunterschiedenen Objecten m unsrer Anschauung oder unseres Denkens (welche
die 'Elemente' von M genannt werden) zu einem Ganzen.
n Zeichen druecken wir dies so aus:
M = {m}.
The citation above is from "Beitrge zur Begrndung der transfiniten Mengelehre" [Contributions to
the founding of the theory of transfinite numbers], Mathematische Annalen, Band XLV [vol. 46], pp.
481-512, B. G. Teubner, Leipzig, 1895.
Please recall that Cantor's "Contributions to the founding of the theory of transfinite numbers" [first
published by The Open Court publishing Company, Chicago-London, 1915] is a translation of the
two memoirs which had appeared in Mathematische Annalen for 1895 and 1897 under the title:
"Beitrge zur Begrndung der transfiniten Mengelehre" -- translation from the German, introduction,
and notes by Philip Edward Bertrand Jourdain (1879-1919). An unabridged and unaltered
republication of the English translation mentioned was edited also by Dover Publications, nc., New
York, 1955 [SBN: 0486600459].
M stands for the German term "Menge." Cantor may have used this notation earlier in his
correspondence with the mathematicians of his day. (This entry was contributed by Julio Gonzlez
Cabilln.)
p, q, a%+ r were used as "propositional letters" in 1910 by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand
Russell in the first volume of ,rincipia mathematica (Cajori vol. 2, page 307).
Ep for "the negation of p" was used in 1910 by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in the
first volume of ,rincipia mathematica (Cajori vol. 2, page 307).
p V q for "p or -" was used in 1910 by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell in the first
volume of ,rincipia mathematica! (These authors used p!- for "p and -!") (Cajori vol. 2, page 307)
The %ull set symbol "F$' Andr Weil (1906-1998) says in his autobiography that he introduced the
symbol:
Wisely, we had decided to publish an installment establishing the system of notation for set theory,
rather than wait for the detailed treatment that was to follow: it was high time to fix these notations
once and for all, and indeed the ones we proposed, which introduced a number of modifications to
the notations previously in use, met with general approval. Much later, my own part in these
discussions earned me the respect of my daughter Nicolette, when she learned the symbol for
the empty set at school and told her that had been personally responsible for its adoption. The
symbol came from the Norwegian alphabet, with which alone among the Bourbaki group was
familiar.
The citation above is from page 114 of Andr Weil's &he Apprenticeship of a Mathematician,
Birkhaeuser Verlag, Basel-Boston-Berlin, 1992. Translated from the French by Jennifer Gage. The
citation was provided by Julio Gonzlez Cabilln. This letter is used in the Norwegian, Danish and
Faroese alphabets.
The therefore symbol ( )was first published in 1659 in the original German edition of &eusche
Alge#ra by Johann Rahn (1622-1676) (Cajori vol. 1, page 212, and vol 2., page 282).
The halmos "a bo2 i%+icati%) the e%+ of a *roof$' On the last page of his autobiography, Paul R.
Halmos (1916- ) writes:
My most nearly immortal contributions are an abbreviation and a typographical symbol. invented
"iff", for "if and only if" -- but could never believe that was really its first inventor. am quite
prepared to beieve that it existed before me, but don't $no% that it did, and my invention (re-
invention?) of it is what spread it thorugh the mathematical world. The symbol is definitely not my
invention -- it appeared in popular magazines (not mathematical ones) before adopted it, but, once
again, seem to have introduced it into mathematics. t is the symbol that sometimes looks like [an
empty square], and is used to indicate an end, usually the end of a proof. t is most frequently called
the "tombstone", but at least one generous author referred to it as the "halmos".
This quote is from 1 'ant to Be a MathematicianB An Automathography, by Paul R. Halmos,
Springer-Verlag, New York, Berlin, Heidelberg, Tokyo, 1985, page 403.
The ale*h %ull symbol was conceived by Georg Cantor (1845-1918) around 1893, and became
widely known after "Beitrge zur Begrndung der transfiniten Mengelehre" [Contributions to the
Foundation of Transfinite Set Theory] saw the light in Mathematische Annalen, vol. 46, B. G.
Teubner, Leipzig, 1895.
On page 492 of this prestigious journal we find the paragraph )ie $leinste transfinite (ardinal=ahl
Alef>null [The minimum transfinite cardinal number Aleph null], and the following:
...wir nennen die ihr zukommende Cardinalzahl, in Zeichen, ... [We call the cardinal number
related to that (set); in symbol, ]
P. S: Cantor's "Contributions to the founding of the theory of transfinite numbers" was translated
from the German by Philip E. B. Jourdain, and published in 1915 by The Open Court Publishing
Company, Chicago-London. (This entry was contributed by Julio Gonzlez Cabilln.)
n 2eorg (antor, Dauben (page 179) says that Cantor did not want to use Roman or Greek
alphabets, because they were already widely used, and "His new numbers deserved something
unique. ... Not wishing to invent a new symbol himself, he chose the aleph, the first letter of the
Hebrew alphabet...the aleph could be taken to represent new beginnings...." Avinoam Mann points
out that aleph is also the first letter of the Hebrew word "Einsof," which means infinity and that the
Kabbalists use "einsof" for the Godhead. Mann also notes that Coleridge, in Ku#la Khan, refers to
the sacred river Alph, and it is thought that this name is related to Aleph. n a letter dated April 30,
1895, Cantor wrote, "it seemed to me that for this purpose, other alphabets were [already] over-
used" (translation by Martin Davis). Although his father was a Lutheran and his mother was a
Roman Catholic, he had at least some Jewish ancestry.
A reader of this page writes, "Please do note that the probable derivation of this is the fact that this
letter alep literally is the same as elep, meaning "thousand," the largest number whereto a name
was applied in ancient Hebrew. The term "Aleph null" could hardly have been taken from (as your
article is claiming) the mystical term eyn>so%p, which is a compound meaning, literally,
"nothingness-consuming" (which is actually referring to a mystic vision of nothingness, i.e. with the
notion that there can exist nothing other than the Godhead). A mathematician, after all, can hardly
expect (certainly Georg Cantor did not!) that any infinity can be derived from nothingness, by such a
process as division by zero; which is, in effect, what thy published article asserteth as actual."
Set i%clusio%' The symbols for "is included in" (untergeordnet) and for "includes"
(#ergeordnet) were introduced by Schrder 5orlesungen #er die Alge#ra der +ogi$ ol! 8 (1890).
Previously the symbols < and > had been used. (Cajori vol. 2, page 294)
E8ual by +efi%itio%' =Def is found in C. Burali-Forti +ogicamatematica (1894) (Grattan-Guinness
(2000) p. 216).
Earliest Uses of Symbols of Number Theory
+ast updatedB April <, ;EE8
Co%)rue%ce of %umbers' The congruent symbol used in number theory was introduced in print in
1801 by Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) in )is-uisitions arithmeticae:
Numerorum congruentiam hoc signo, , in posterum denotabimus, modulum ubi opus erit in
clausulis adiungentes, -16 9 (mod. 5), -7 15 (modo 11).
The citation above is from )is-uisitiones arithmeticae (Leipzig, 1801), art. 2; 'er$e, Vol.
(Gottingen, 1863), p. 10 (Cajori vol. 2, page 35).
However, Gauss had used the symbol much earlier in his personal writings (Francis, page 82).
The %umber of *rimes less tha% x. Edmund Landau used (x) for the number of primes less than
or equal to x in 1909 in Hand#uch der +ehre on der 5erteilung der ,rim=ahlen (Cajori vol. 2, page
36).
etters for the sets of ratio%al a%+ real %umbers' The authors of classical textbooks such as
Weber and Fricke did not denote particular domains of computation with letters.
Richard Dedekind (1831-1916) denoted the rationals by R and the reals by gothic R in (ontinuity
and irrational num#ers (1872). Dedekind also used K for the integers and J for complex numbers.
n 1895 in his 6ormulaire de math@mati-ues, Giuseppe Peano (1858-1932) used N for the positive
integers, n for integers, NE for the positive integers and zero, R for positive rational numbers, r for
rational numbers, L for positive real numbers, - for real numbers, and LE for positive real numbers
and zero [Cajori vol. 2, page 299].
Helmut Hasse (1898-1979) used [capital gamma] for the integers and [capital rho] for the rationals
in HJhere Alge#ra and , Berlin 1926. He kept to this notation in his later books on number theory.
Hasse's choice of gamma and rho may have been determined by the initial letters of the German
terms "ganze Zahl" (integer) and "rationale Zahl" (rational).
Otto Haupt used 2
0
for the integers and [capital rho]
0
for the rationals in "infhrung in die Alge#ra 1
and 11, Leipzig 1929.
Bartel Leendert van der Waerden (1903-1996) used C for the integers and [capital gamma] for the
rationals in Moderne Alge#ra 1, Berlin 1930, but in editions during the sixties, he changed to Z and
Q.
Edmund Landau (1877-1938) denoted the set of integers by a fraktur Z with a bar over it in
2rundlagen der Analysis (1930, p. 64). He does not seem to introduce symbols for the sets of
rationals, reals, or complex numbers.
L for the set of rational numbers and * for the set of integers are apparently due to N. Bourbaki. (N.
Bourbaki was a group of mostly French mathematicians which began meeting in the 1930s, aiming
to write a thorough unified account of all mathematics.) The letters stand for the German Luotient
and *ahlen! These notations occur in Bourbaki's Alg@#re, Chapter 1.
Julio Gonzlez Cabilln writes that he believes Bourbaki was responsible for both of the above
symbols, quoting Weil, who wrote, "...it was high time to fix these notations once and for all, and
indeed the ones we proposed, which introduced a number of modifications to the notations
previously in use, met with general approval." [Walter Felscher, Stacy Langton, Peter Flor, and A. J.
Franco de Oliveira contributed to this entry.]
C for the set of com*le2 %umbers' William C. Waterhouse wrote to a history of mathematics
mailing list in 2001:
Checking things have available, found C used for the complex numbers in an early paper by
Nathan Jacobson:
Structure and Automorphisms of Semi-Simple Lie Groups in the Large, Annals of Math! 40 (1939),
755-763.
The second edition of Birkhoff and MacLane, .urey of Modern Alge#ra (1953), also uses C (but is
not using the Bourbaki system: it has J for integers, R for rationals, R^# for reals). have't seen the
first edition (1941), but would expect to find C used there too. 'm sure remember C used in this
sense in a number of other American books published around 1950.
think the first Bourbaki volume published was the results summary on set theory, in 1939, and it
does not contain any symbol for the complex numbers. Of course Bourbaki had probably chosen
the symbols by that time, but think in fact the first appearance of (bold-face) C in Bourbaki was in
the formal introduction of complex numbers in Chapter 8 of the topology book (first published in
1947).
EulerCs *hi fu%ctio%' (m) was introduced by Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) in 1801 in his
)is-uisitiones Arithmeticae, articles 38, 39 (Cajori vol. 2, page 35, and Dickson, page 113-115).
The article "Number Theory" in the "ncyclopaedia Britannica claims this symbol was introduced by
Leonhard Euler (1707-1783). However Dickson (page 113) and Cajori (vol. 2, p. 35) say that Euler
did not use a functional notation in Noi (omm! Ac! petrop!, 8, 1760-1, 74, and (omm! Arith!, 1,
274, and that Euler used N in Acta Ac! ,etrop!, 4 (or 8), 1780 (1755), 18, and (omm! Arith!, 2,
127-133. Shapiro agrees, writing: "He did not employ any symbol for the function until 1780, when
he used the notation n!"
Sylvester, who used tau for this function, also believed that Euler used . He writes (in vol. V p. 589
of his Collected Mathematical Papers) " am in the habit of representing the totient of n by the
symbol (tau) n, (tau) (taken from the initial of the word it denotes) being a less hackneyed letter than
Euler's , which has no claim to preference over any other letter of the Greek alphabet, but rather
the reverse." This information was taken from a post in sci.math by Robert srael.
Gua+ratic reci*rocity' Adrien-Marie Legendre introduced the notation that ()/p) = 1 if ) is a
quadratic residue of p, and ()/p) = -1 if ) is a quadratic non-residue of p! According to Hardy &
Wright's An 1ntroduction to the &heory of Num#ers: "Legendre introduced 'Legendre's symbol' in his
"ssai sur la theorie des nom#res, first published in 1798. See, for example, 135 of the second
edition (1808)." [Paul Pollack]
Merse%%e %umbers' Mersenne numbers are marked Mn by Allan Cunningham in 1911 in
Mathematical Luestions and .olutions from the "ducational &imes (Cajori vol. 2, page 41).
6ermat %umbers' Fermat numbers are marked 6n in 1919 in L. E. Dickson's History of the &heory
of Num#ers (Cajori vol. 2, page 42).
The %orm of a # bi. Dirichlet used N(a+#i) for the norm a
2
+#
2
of the complex number a+#i in
(relle3s /ournal Vol. XXV (1842) (Cajori vol. 2, page 33).
:alois fiel+' Eliakim Hastings Moore used the symbol 26[-
n
] to represent the Galois field of order
-
n
in 1893. The modern notation is "Galois-field of order -
n
" (Julio Gonzlez Cabilln and Cajori vol.
2, page 41).
Sum of the +i5isors of n. Euler introduced the symbol n in a paper published in 1750 (DSB,
article: "Euler").
n 1888, James Joseph Sylvester continued the use of Euler's notation n (Shapiro).
Allan Cunningham used [lower case sigma](N) to represent the sum of the proper divisors of N in
,roceedings of the +ondon Mathematical .ociety 35 (1902-03) (Cajori vol. 2, page 29).
[According to Shapiro, Cunningham used s(n) in the above paper.]
n 1927 Landau chose the notation .(n) (Shapiro).
L. E. Dickson used s(n) for the sum of the divisors of n (Cajori vol. 2, page 29).
The MHbius fu%ctio%' Mbius' work appeared in 1832 but the symbol was not used.
The notation (n) was introduced by Franz Mertens (1840-1927) in 1874 in "ber einige
asymptotische Gesetze der Zahlentheorie," (relle3s /ournal (Shapiro).
Bi)&O %otatio% was introduced by Paul Bachmann (1837-1920) in his Analytische *ahlentheorie in
1892. The actual O symbol is sometimes called a Landau symbol after Edmund Landau (1877-
1938), who used this notation throughout his work.
ittle&oh %otatio% was first used by Edmund Landau (1877-1938) in 1909, according to the website
of the University of Tennessee at Martin. The symbol appears in 1909 in his Hand#uch der +ehre
on der 5erteilung der ,rim=ahlen!
Earliest Uses of Symbols of Statistics
+ast updatedB May 9, ;EE8
&his page has largely #een contri#uted #y /ohn Aldrich of the Aniersity of .outhampton!
The individual with the greatest influence on present day statistical terminology and notation
remains R. A. Fisher (1890-1962). Many of Fisher's papers are available on the University of
Adelaide Library website, http://www.library.adelaide.edu.au/digitised/fisher/index.html. The first
edition of Fisher's tremendously influential textbook, .tatistical Methods for Research 'or$ers
(1925) is available on the Classics in the History of Psychology website
http://psy.ed.asu.edu/~classics/Fisher/Methods/.
Notatio% for !arameters a%+ Estimates' Today there are two conventions for representing a
parameter and the corresponding estimate. One is to write the estimate by adding a hat (or other
accent) to the character representing the parameter (often a Greek character). The other is to use
corresponding Greek and Latin characters for parameter and estimate. Both conventions owe most
to R. A. Fisher who insisted on clearly distinguishing parameters (see words) and estimates. He
used the hat device mostly in conjunction with in general discussions of estimation as in ,hil!
&rans! R! .oc! 1922 - see below. The most familiar example of the Graeco-Latin convention, s, for
an estimate of , dates from 1908 but the convention only became established in the 1930s. The
growth of the system can be seen through the entries on specific symbols.
Correlatio% coefficie%t' When Galton introduced correlation in "Co-Relations and Their
Measurement," ,roc! R! .oc!, 45, 135-145, 1888 he chose the symbol r for the index of co-relation,
perhaps for its affinity with regression. The use of for the population linear correlation coefficient is
found in 1892 in F. Y Edgeworth, "Correlated Averages," ,hilosophical Maga=ine, Oth .eries, 34,
190-204. The symbol appears on page 190 (David, 1995).
Karl Pearson, who dominated correlation research from the mid-1890s, favoured the use of r (for
both parameter and estimate); thus in 1896 he was writing, "Let r0 be the coefficient of correlation
between parent and offspring" in ,roc! R! .oc! LX 302 (OED2). Student (W. S. Gosset) in "The
Probable Error of the Correlation Coefficient" (Biometri$a, 6, 302-310 1908) wrote r for the estimate
and R for the parameter value. H. E. Soper (Biometri$a, 9, 91-115, 1913) introduced r and .
Soper's scheme was adopted by Fisher in his work on correlation.
G. Udny Yule introduced the notation r12.3 for the partial correlation between x1 and x2 holding x3
fixed in his 1907 "On the Theory of Correlation for any Number of Variables, Treated by a New
System of Notation," ,roc! R! .oc! .eries A, 79, pp. 182-193. The Greek form followed in M. S.
Bartlett's 1933 "On the theory of statistical regression," ,roc! Royal .oc! "din#urgh, 53, 260-283.
R has been used for the double, triple, ..., n-fold or multiple correlation coefficient, at least since
Yule in 1896. R is now generally used for the sample coefficient which is awkward for the population
value because the upper-case is the unappealing ,!
Mome%ts' Pearson introduced the basic symbol to which numerical subscripts would be added to
indicate the order and a prime could be added to indicate about which value the moment is taken.
Fisher applied the Graeco-Latin convention and twinned the 's with m's in his paper on cumulants
(1929).
Sta%+ar+ +e5iatio% a%+ 5aria%ce' The use of for standard deviation first occurs in Karl Pearson's
1894 paper, "Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution," ,hilosophical &ransactions of
the Royal .ociety of +ondon, .er! A, 185, 71-110. On page 80, he wrote, " Then will be termed its
standard-deviation (error of mean square)" (David, 1995). When Fisher introduced variance (see
Words) he did not introduce a new symbol but instead used
2
.
Pearson's notation did not distinguish between parameter and estimate. Student (W. S. Gosset) in
"The Probable Error of a Mean," Biometri$a, 6, 1-25, 1908 used s for an estimate of , though
contrary to modern practice his divisor was n, not (n - 1). Fisher eventually adopted Student's s
2

(with adjusted n) as an estimate of
2
beginning with his 1922 paper, "The goodness of fit of
regression formulae, and the distribution of regression coefficients" (/! Royal .tatist! .oc!, 85, 597-
612).
Re)ressio% %otatio%' Regression analysis has its roots in Gauss's work (1809/-23) on the
combination of observations and Pearson's work (1896) on correlation but the modern notation
essentially dates from the 1920s when R. A. Fisher drew the Gauss and Pearson lines together. n
his .tatistical Methods for Research 'or$ers (1925) Fisher presents regression using y and x and
the terms "dependent variable" and "independent variable." For the population values of the
intercept and slope Fisher uses and and for the estimates a and #! This textbook exposition was
based on a 1922 paper, "The goodness of fit of regression formulae, and the distribution of
regression coefficients" (/! Royal .tatist! .oc!, 85, 597-612). (The sheer variety of early regresssion
notation can be seen from the examples in Aldrich (1998).)
as the )e%eric Iu%/%o9%I *arameter' R. A. Fisher established the role and in it in "On the
Mathematical Foundations of Theoretical Statistics" (,hil! &rans! R! .oc! 1922) and the papers that
followed. Fisher had already used the notation in his first publication, a paper he wrote as a third
year undergraduate, "On an absolute criterion for fitting frequency curves" (Messenger of
Mathematics, 1912).
for cumula%ts "cumulati5e mome%t fu%ctio%s$ a%+ the corres*o%+i%) k&statistics' Fisher
introduced this notation in his 1929 paper "Moments and Product Moments of Sampling
Distributions," ,roceedings of the +ondon Mathematical .ociety, .eries ;, 30, 199-238. He
introduced the cumulant notation into the 1932 (fourth) edition of the .tatistical Methods for
Research 'or$ers!
Mea% of the %ormal +istributio%' , as the symbol for the mean of the normal distribution, was
surprisingly late in becoming established. Fisher adopted it in the 1936 (sixth) edition of the
.tatistical Methods for Research 'or$ers! He had been using m since 1912. He used x-bar for the
sample mean throughout.
Symbols for test statistics' There are no conventions here like those governing parameters and
estimates.
F +istributio%' Please see the entry on the mathematical words page here.
Chi&s8uare+' Please see the entry on the mathematical words page here.
The letter t' Christian Kramp was apparently the first to use the symbol t (Walker, 1929). He used it
to stand for (in modern notation) x/ (sqrt 2) where x is a single observation.
Mansfield Merriman used t to stand for the ratio of the limiting error to the probable error. This ratio
has some similarities to the statistic that Gossett was to invent under the name of x, but that later
became known as t (Tankard, page 94).
For the history of the symbol t for Student's distribution, please see the entry Student's t-Distribution
on the math words page.
SYMBOS IN COMBINATORIA ANAYSIS
6actorial' An early factorial symbol, , was suggested by Rev. Thomas Jarrett (1805-1882) in
1827. t occurs in a paper "On Algebraic Notation" that was printed in 1830 in the &ransactions of
the (am#ridge ,hilosophical .ociety and it appears in 1831 in An "ssay on Alge#raic )eelopment
containing the ,rincipal "xpansions in (ommon Alge#ra, in the )ifferential and 1ntegral (alculus
and in the (alculus of 6inite )ifferences (Cajori vol. 2, pages 69, 75).
The notation n! was introduced by Christian Kramp (1760-1826) in 1808 as a convenience to the
printer. n his Pl@mens d3arithm@ti-ue unierselle (1808), Kramp wrote:
Je me sers de la notation trs simple n! pour dsigner le produit de nombres dcroissans depuis n
jusqu' l'unit, savoir n(n - 1)(n - 2) ... 3.2.1. L'emploi continuel de l'analyse combinatoire que je fais
dans la plupart de mes dmonstrations, a rendu cette notation indispensable.
n "Mmoire sur les facults numriques," published in J. D. Gergonne's Annales de
Math@mati-ues [vol. , 1812 and 1813], Kramp writes:
1. [...] Je donne le nom de 6acult@s aux produits dont les facteurs constituent une progression
arithmtique, tels que
a(a + r)(a + 2r)...[a + (m-1)r];
et, pour dsigner un pareil produit, j'ai propos la notation
a
m|r
.
Les facults forment une classe de fontions trs-lementaires, tant que leur exposant est un
nombre entier, soit positif soit ngatif; mais, dans tous les autres cas, ces mmes fonctions
deviennent absolument transcendantes. [page 1]
2. J'observe que toute facult numrique quelconque est constamment rductible la forme trs-
simple
1
m|1
= 1 . 2 . 3 ... m
ou cette autre forme plus simple [page 2]
m!,
si l'on veut adopter la notation dont j'ai fait usage dans mes Pl@ments d3arithm@ti-ue unierselle, no.
289. [page 3]
[Julio Gonzlez Cabilln; Cajori vol. 2, p. 72]
n &he "lliptic 6unctions As &hey .hould Be (1958), Albert Eagle advocated writing !n rather than
n!, so that the operator would precede the argument, as it does in most cases [Daren Scot Wilson].
Combi%atio%s a%+ *ermutatio%s' Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) designated the binomial
coefficients by n over r within parentheses and using a horizontal fraction bar in a paper written in
1778 but not published until 1806. He used used the same device except with brackets in a paper
written in 1781 and published in 1784 (Cajori vol. 2, page 62).
The modern notation, using parentheses and no fraction bar, appears in 1826 in )ie
(om#inatorische Analyse by Andreas von Ettingshausen [Henry W. Gould]. According to Cajori
(vol. 2, page 63) this notation was introduced in 1827 by Andreas von Ettingshausen in
5orlesungen #er hJhere Mathemati$, Vol. .
Harvey Goodwin used n,r for the number of permutations of n things taken r at a time in 1869 and
earlier. The notation appears in his "lementary (ourse of Mathematics, 3rd ed. (Cajori vol. 2, page
79).
G. Chrystal used n(r for the number of combinations of n things taken r at a time in Alge#ra, Part
(1899) (Cajori vol. 2, page 80).
SYMBOS ASSOCIATED DIT( T(E NORMA DISTRIBUTION
The normal distribution has been studied for nearly 300 years: see the entries CENTRAL LMT
THEOREM, GAUSSAN and NORMAL. t has been written in many forms and the forms used today
are relatively recent.
The normal distribution was first obtained as the limiting form of the binomial distribution in the early
18
th
century by Abraham De Moivre (the 20
th
century editor provides the equation in footnote 2).
From the early 19
th
century the normal distribution was the foundation of the theory of errors,
developed for use in astronomy and geodesy. The normal distribution went by various names,
including the law of error and the probability curve. Although the most important early contributor
was Laplace, the most common way of writing the normal distribution--at least in the English
literature--came from Gauss.
The theory of errors
C. F. Gauss's (1777-1855) &heoria Motus (orporum (oelestium in .ectioni#us (onicis .olem
Am#ientum (&he &heory of the Motion of Heaenly Bodies moing around the .un in (onic
.ections) of 1809 was extremely influential. t presented the normal distribution in conjunction with
the method of least squares.
The following equation appears on p. 244
Using modern conventions for brackets and squares this would be written
The errors (A) are centred on E. n the English literature the quantity h, or its reciprocal, was often
called the modulus. See MODULUS
A typical presentation of Gauss's ideas can be found in Chauvenet's A Manual of Spherical and
Practical Astronomy ... with an Appendix on the Method of Least Squares (4
th
edition, 1871). The
section on "the probability curve" (pp. 478-485) discusses Gauss's function which appears on p.
484.
The theory of )ases
From the middle of the 19
th
century the error distribution was used in the theory of gases (and later
statistical mechanics). J. Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) wrote, instead of a density, "The number of
particles whose velocity, resolved in a certain direction, lies between x and x Q dx is given by
where N is the total number of particles. "llustrations of the Dynamical Theory of Gases,"
,hilosophical Maga=ine, =@, (1860), 19-32.
Biometry
Biometry (q.v.) appeared at the end of the 19
th
century. Karl Pearson (1857-1936) was responsible
for most of the mathematical machinery. Pearson was a follower of Maxwell rather than Gauss. His
principal innovation was a new measure of dispersion, the standard deviation (q.v.) but he also
popularised a new name for the distribution (see the entry normal). Pearson wrote
where "c is the total number of units measured, or the area of the probability curve." See p. 80 of
"Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution," ,hilosophical &ransactions of the Royal
.ociety of +ondon A, =J?, 71-110.
n most of the biometric literature the number of units was represented by N. See e.g. the equation
for the sample mean in Section of Student's "The Probable Error of a Mean", Biometri$a, K,
(1908), 1-25.
Early BL
th
ce%tury Statistics
R. A. Fisher (1890-1962), the most influential statistician of the first half of the 20
th
century, changed
the form of the normal distribution principally by presenting the case with non-zero mean as the
typical case. Fisher had learnt the theory of errors as a student and in his first paper "On an
Absolute Criterion for Fitting Frequency Curves" (1912, p. 157) uses the Gauss notation but with a
change
where m is the mean.
Fisher soon went over to the biometric notation (but without the c or N). He wrote the bivariate
density in his 1915 paper on correlation (p. 508). When he next needs the univariate form he writes
"the chance of any observation falling in the range dx is
from A Mathematical Examination of the Methods of Determining the Accuracy of an Observation by
the Mean Error, and by the Mean Square Error (1920, p. 758.) Fisher generally used df to denoted
this chance--see the expression on p. 508 of his 1915 paper.
Fisher wrote the normal density like this (see section 12 of his Statistical Methods for Research
Workers) until the mid-1930s when he replaced m with . The new symbol appears in The Fiducial
Argument in Statistical nference (1935) and it went into the 1936 (sixth) edition of the .tatistical
Methods for Research 'or$ers!
The %ormal +istributio% to+ay
While the biometricians and statisticians were using the normal distribution, the probability theorists
were developing ever more refined versions of the central limit theorem. (Although the term central
limit theorem (q.v.) dates from the early 20
th
century, the subject begins with Laplace.) Where
modern statistical notation for the normal differs from Fisher's, the changes mainly reflect the
influence and prestige of modern probability theory. (See symbols of probability.)
i' The %ormal +istributio%
Fisher usually wrote the density in the form df R !!! dx but more recently f as been reserved for the
density function and 6 for the distribution function and so a more "correct" way of writing would be
d6 R !!! dx! (See symbols in probability.) However the differential notation has gone out of fashion
and it is more usual to write some variation of
The subscript I is used if there a danger of confusion with other random variables. (See symbols in
probability.)
ii' The sta%+ar+ %ormal
n the biometric era W. F. Sheppard (,hil! &rans A, =@B, (1899), p. 105) used the expression
"standard normal curve" for "a normal curve whose area and standard deviation are unity", as
Walker (1929) reports. However the term did not catch on and Sheppard did not use it when he
presented (Biometri$a, ?, (1907), p. 404) tables of the standard normal: he spoke of "the value of
the deviation, the standard deviation being taken as unit." See the similar caption to the normal
tables (Tables . and .) in Fisher's .tatistical Methods for Research 'or$ers (1925). The term "unit
normal" had some currency but most authors used no term.
The term "standard normal" came into general use around 1950, appearing in the popular textbooks
by P. G. Hoel 1ntroduction to Mathematical .tatistics (1947) and A. M. Mood 1ntroduction to the
&heory of .tatistics (1950).
Modern texts often write the density function for the standard normal as
in accordance with Halperin, Hartley & Hoel's "Recommended Standards for Statistical Symbols
and Notation. ..., (American .tatistician, =@, (1965), p. 12). They recommend 4 for the distribution
function and the corresponding lower case letter for the density, however "the use of the variable, z,
as argument, is optional." 4 had been used in influential probability works by Cramr (1937) and
Feller (1950). (See symbols in probability.) n recent decades = has come to be very widely used,
particularly in the expression "z score." n earlier decades = was not available as it was established
with a different meaning in the analysis of variance and in correlation.
SYMBOS IN !ROBABIITY
Apart from the combinatorial symbols very little of the notation of modern probability dates from
before the 20
th
century.
!robability' Symbols for the probability of an event A on the pattern of ,(A) or ,r(A) are a relatively
recent development given that probability has been studied for centuries. A. N. Kolmogorov's
2rund#egriffe der 'ahrscheinlich$eitsrechnung (1933) used the symbol !(A). The use of upper-
case letters for events was taken from set theory where they referred to sets H. Cramr's Random
5aria#les and ,ro#a#ility )istri#utions (1937), "the first modern book on probability in English,"
used ,(A). n the same year J. V. Uspensky (1ntroduction to Mathematical ,ro#a#ility) wrote simply
(A), following A. A. Markov 'ahrscheinlich$eitsrechnung (1912, p. 179) W. Feller's influential An
1ntroduction to ,ro#a#ility &heory and its Applications olume 8 (1950) uses ,r{A} and !{A}in later
editions.
See also the entry PROBABLTY and the "Earliest Uses of Symbols of Set Theory and Logic" page
of this website.
Co%+itio%al *robability' Kolmogorov's (1933) symbol for conditional probability ("die bedingte
Wahrscheinlichkeit") was !B(A). Cramr (1937) wrote PB (A) and referred to the "relative
probability." Uspensky (1937) used the term "conditional probability" and took the symbol (A,B) from
A. A. Markov's 'ahrscheinlich$eitsrechnung (1912, p. 179). The vertical stroke notation ,r{A | B}
was made popular by Feller (1950), though it was used earlier by H. Jeffreys. n Jeffreys's .cientific
1nference (1931) ,(p | -) stands for "the probability of the proposition p on the data -!" Jeffreys
mentions that Keynes and Johnson, earlier Cambridge writers, had used pM-0 Jeffreys himself had
used ,(p : -). The symbols p and - came from Whitehead and Russell's ,rincipia Mathematica!
See also the entries CONDTONAL PROBABLTY and POSTEROR PROBABLTY and the
"Earliest Uses of Symbols of Set Theory and Logic" page of this website.
E2*ectatio%' A large script E was used for the expectation in W. A. Whitworth's well-known
textbook (hoice and (hance (fifth edition) of 1901 but neither the symbol nor the calculus of
expectations became established in the "nglish literature until much later. For example, Rietz
Mathematical .tatistics (1927) used the symbol " and commented that "the expected value of the
variable is a concept that has been much used by various continental European writers..." For the
continental European writers " signified "Erwartung" or "'sprance."
Ra%+om 5ariable' The use of upper and lower case letters to distinguish a random variable from
the value it takes, as in ,r{I = xF }, became popular around 1950. The convention is used in Feller's
1ntroduction to ,ro#a#ility &heory!
Distributio% fu%ctio% a%+ +e%sity fu%ctio%' The use of 6 for the generic distribution function has
been established in the probabillity literature since the 1920s. Paul Lvy (alcul des ,ro#a#ilit@s
(1925) (p. 136), conforming to the usual notation for the Stieltjes integral.
Lvy uses f for the density function but its use in that role was not automatic--thus Cramr (1937)
uses f for the characteristic function corresponding to 6. Since the 1940s the 6 for distribution
function and f for density convention (within the broader convention of using the upper-case and
corresponding lower-case letters in these roles) has been widely adopted, particularly by
statisticians, following the treatises by M. G. Kendall &he Adanced &heory of .tatistics (1943) and
S. S. Wilks Mathematical .tatistics (1944).
6 and f are often adorned with affixes to register the random variable concerned. Kolmogorov
(1933) wrote 6
x
but now 6I is more common--in accordance with the convention that upper case
letters are for the names of random variables.
SYMBOS IN STATISTICS
Notatio% for !arameters a%+ Estimates' n the 1890s Karl Pearson used some Greek letters as
symbols but the use of Greek letters to represent parameters only became systematic in the 1920s
and -30s. By then R. A. Fisher was insisting on clearly distinguishing parameters and estimates
(see PARAMETER on the Math Words page). Two conventions for representing parameters and
the corresponding estimates came into use. One forms the estimate by adding a
circumflex/caret/hat (or other accent) to the Greek character representing the parameter. The other
uses corresponding Greek and Latin characters for parameter and estimate. Fisher tended to favour
the Graeco-Latin convention but he also used the hat device, mainly in conjunction with in general
discussions of estimation as in his ,hil! &rans! R! .oc! 8D;; paper. The most familiar example of
the Graeco-Latin convention, s for an estimate of o, dates from 1908 but the general convention
came much later. The entries on specific symbols show the development of the conventions.
(Based on Aldrich (2003 and 1998))
for the sam*le mea% is a relic of a convention that has otherwise vanished from probability and
statistics. t derives from the practice of applied mathematicians of representing any kind of average
by a bar. J. Clerk Maxwell's "On the Dynamical Theory of Gases (,hilosophical &ransactions of the
Royal .ociety, =?M, (1867) p. 64) uses for the "mean velocity" of molecules while W. Thomson &
P. G. Tait's &reatise on Natural ,hilosophy (1879) uses for the centre of inertia, ( = %x / x)
Karl Pearson, the leading statistician of the early 20th century, had such a physics background.
Pearson and his contemporaries used the bar for sample averages and for expected values but
eventually " replaced it in the latter role. The survival of for the sample mean is probably due to
the influential example of R. A. Fisher who used it in all his works; the first of these was "On an
Absolute Criterion for Fitting Frequency Curves" (1912). See Expectation in .ym#ols in ,ro#a#ility
above and also AVERAGE, MEAN and EXPECTATON on the Math Words page.
Sta%+ar+ +e5iatio% a%+ 5aria%ce' (See STANDARD DEVATON and VARANCE on the Math
Words page.) The use of o for standard deviation first occurs in Karl Pearson's 1894 paper,
"Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution," ,hilosophical &ransactions of the Royal
.ociety of +ondon, .er! A, =J?, 71-110. On page 80, he wrote, " Then o will be termed its standard-
deviation (error of mean square)" (David, 1995). When Fisher introduced variance in 1918 he did
not introduce a new symbol but instead used o
2
.
Pearson's notation did not distinguish between parameter and estimate. Student (W. S. Gosset) in
"The Probable Error of a Mean", Biometri$a, K, (1908), 1-25, used s for an estimate of o, though
contrary to modern practice his divisor was n, not (n - 1). Fisher eventually adopted Student's s
2

(with adjusted n) as an estimate of o
2
beginning with his 1922 paper, "The goodness of fit of
regression formulae, and the distribution of regression coefficients" (/! Royal .tatist! .oc!, J?, 597-
612).
Mome%ts' Pearson introduced the basic symbol S to which numerical subscripts would be added to
indicate the order and a prime could be added to indicate about which value the moment is taken.
Originally the moment was given by an expression of the form TS where T is the "area of the entire
system;" see e.g. Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution. . Skew Variation in
Homogeneous Material, ,hilosophical &ransactions of the Royal .ociety A, =JK, p. 347. Eventually
the area was normalised to unity and the moment coefficient became the moment. Fisher applied
the Graeco-Latin convention and twinned the S's with m's in his paper on cumulants (1929). See
MOMENT on the Math Words page.
Correlatio%' (See CORRELATON on the Math Words page.) When Galton introduced correlation
in "Co-Relations and Their Measurement", ,roc! R! .oc!, 45, 135-145, 1888 (also on Galton
website) he chose the symbol r for the index of co-relation, perhaps for its affinity with regression.
The use of U for the population linear correlation coefficient is found in 1892 in F. Y Edgeworth,
"Correlated Averages," ,hilosophical Maga=ine, Oth .eries, <>, 190-204. The symbol appears on
page 190 (David, 1995).
Karl Pearson, who dominated correlation research from the mid-1890s, favoured r (for both
parameter and estimate), using U only if a second correlation symbol was required; thus both
symbols appear on p. 302 of Contributions to the Mathematical Theory of Evolution. Note on
Reproductive Selection," ,roc! R! .oc!, ?@, (1895-6), 301-305. Student (W. S. Gosset) in "The
Probable Error of the Correlation Coefficient" (Biometri$a, 6, 302-310 1908) had different symbols
for the parameter value (R) and for the estimate (r). H. E. Soper (Biometri$a, @, 91-115, 1913) used
U and r in these roles. R. A. Fisher used the Soper symbols from his first work in correlation (1915).
G. Udny Yule introduced the notation r12'3 for the *artial correlatio% between x1 and x2 holding x3
fixed in his 1907 "On the Theory of Correlation for any Number of Variables, Treated by a New
System of Notation," ,roc! R! .oc! .eries A, 79, pp. 182-193. The Greek forms, including U 12'3,
followed in M. S. Bartlett's 1933 "On the theory of statistical regression," ,roc! Royal .oc!
"din#urgh, ?<, 260-283.
R has been used for the double, triple, ..., n-fold or multi*le correlatio% coefficient, at least since
Yule used it in 1896. R is now generally used for the sample coefficient. This is awkward because
the upper-case U, the natural choice for the population coefficient, is the unappealing letter, ,!
Re)ressio%' (See REGRESSON and METHOD OF LEAST SQUARES on the Math Words page.)
Modern regression analysis has its roots in Gauss's work (1809/-23) on the use of least squares for
combining observations and in the work of Galton and Pearson on heredity. Gauss's notation can
be seen in Chauvenet's Manual pp. 509ff with the special notation for Gaussian elimination on pp.
530ff. Pearson's correlation-based notation can be seen in the equation for H1 on p. 241 of his
"Note on Regression and nheritance in the Case of Two Parents," ,roc! R! .oc!, ?J, (1895), 240-2.
The notational highpoint of the correlation/regression development was Yule's "On the Theory of
Correlation for any Number of Variables, Treated by a New System of Notation," ,roc! R! .oc!, A,
M@, (1907), 182-193 where b12'.3 stands for the partial regression of x1 on x2 holding x3 fixed. (Cf.
correlation notation above).
Yule's regression notation is used sometimes in multivariate analysis but the most familiar modern
regression notation dates from the 1920s when R. A. Fisher drew the Gauss and Pearson lines
together. n his .tatistical Methods for Research 'or$ers (1925) Fisher presents regression using y
and x and the terms "dependent variable" and "independent variable." For the population values of
the intercept and slope Fisher uses d and , for the estimates he uses a and #! This textbook
exposition was based on a 1922 paper, "The goodness of fit of regression formulae, and the
distribution of regression coefficients" (/! Royal .tatist! .oc!, J?, 597-612.
Matrix notation was first used in the 1920s but only came into wide use in the 1950s. The practice of
writing an error term in the equation also became common around 1950. See the entry ERROR on
the Math Words page.
N as the )e%eric Iu%/%o9%I *arameter' R. A. Fisher established the role and 0 in it in "On the
Mathematical Foundations of Theoretical Statistics" (,hil! &rans! R! .oc! 1922) and the papers that
followed. However Fisher had already used the notation in his first publication, a paper he wrote as
a third year undergraduate, "On an Absolute Criterion for Fitting Frequency Curves " (Messenger of
Mathematics, 1912, >=: 155-160).
for cumula%ts "cumulati5e mome%t fu%ctio%s$ a%+ the corres*o%+i%) k&statistics' Fisher
introduced this notation in his 1929 paper "Moments and Product Moments of Sampling
Distributions", ,roceedings of the +ondon Mathematical .ociety, .eries ;, 30, 199-238. He
introduced the cumulant notation into the 1932 (fourth) edition of the .tatistical Methods for
Research 'or$ers!
for the mea% of the %ormal +istributio%' (See .ym#ols associated %ith the normal distri#ution)
S, as the symbol for the mean of the normal distribution, was surprisingly late in becoming
established. Fisher adopted it in the 1936 (sixth) edition of the .tatistical Methods for Research
'or$ers! He had been using m since 1912. He had always used for the sample mean.
Symbols associate+ 9ith testi%) hy*otheses'
P&5alue. Please see the entry on the mathematical words page here.
H0 was used to represent "the hypothesis in which we are particularly interested" in J. Neyman and
E. S. Pearson's "On the Problem of the Most Efficient Tests of Statistical Hypotheses, "
,hilosophical &ransactions of the Royal .ociety of +ondon! .eries A, B<=. (1933), pp. 289-337.
They had referred to "Hypothesis A" in their 1928 paper, "On the use and nterpretation of Certain
Test Criteria for Purposes of Statistical nference. Part ," Biometri$a, BL A, 175-240. See the entry
HYPOTHESS & HYPOTHESS TESTNG on the mathematical words page here.
O for the "ma2imise+$ li/elihoo+ ratio' This symbol was introduced by J. Neyman and E. S.
Pearson in their "On the Use of Certain Test Criteria for Purposes of Statistical nference, Part "
Biometri$a, (1928), BLA, 263-294. They called the quantity it denoted the li$elihood but later authors
called it the likelihood ratio. See the entry LKELHOOD RATO on the mathematical words page
here.
for the si;e of the critical re)io% appears in J. Neyman and E. S. Pearson's "Contributions to
the Theory of Testing Statistical Hypotheses," .tatistical Research Memoirs, =, (1936), 1-37. n their
1933 paper, which introduced "size," they had used the symbol s. See the entry SZE on the
mathematical words page here.
! for the *o9er fu%ctio% was introduced by J. Neyman "Tests of Statistical Hypotheses Which are
Unbiased in the Limit," Annals of Mathematical .tatistics, @, (1938), p. 79: "Let %n be any critical
region ... [W]e may introduce a new symbol ... V (%n |0} ... [where] %n is kept constant and 0 varied."
See the entry POWER on the mathematical words page here.
F +istributio%' Please see the entry on the mathematical words page here.
P
"
"chi&s8uare+$' Please see the entry on the mathematical words page here.
"Stu+e%tCs$ t' Please see the entry Student's t-Distribution on the math words page here.
T
"
was introduced by Harold Hotelling in "The Generalization of Student's Ratio," Annals of
Mathematical .tatistics, B, (1931), 360-378.
; has played several roles. Today it most often stands for the standard normal; see .ym#ols
associated %ith the Normal distri#ution above. R. A. Fisher used = in the analysis of variance (see
the entry z AND z DSTRBUTON here) and in transforming the correlation coefficient (see the
entry FSHER'S z TRANSFORMATON OF THE CORRELATON COEFFCENT here.) Student
had used originally z for the test statistic that was turned into "Student's t". (See the entry
STUDENT'S t-DSTRBUTON here.)
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