Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Why do equations typically have variable names like x and y?

In computer programming, we value meaningful names for variables. For example, if I were trying to calculate a square root, I would call the value I was trying to determine square_root, not x. This makes my code easier to understand.

Is this common in math and I just don't realize it?

share|improve this question
    
The use of $x$ roots back to the arabs. The $y$ is just a natural continuation using our alphabet. –  Pedro Tamaroff Mar 21 '13 at 14:31
1  
Viète used vowels to denote unknowns; it was Descartes that started using $x$ and $y$. –  egreg Mar 21 '13 at 14:45
    
Isn't this a duplicate question: why mathematics doesn't use descriptive names for variables? Of course Einstein should have written Energy = Mass x Speed_Of_Light^2 –  GEdgar Mar 21 '13 at 14:53
add comment

1 Answer

Well because $x$ and $y$ are short, and mathematicans are lazy. It would be much more work to write every time the name, which is really annoying if you do a lot of calculation.

And math ist very abstract, so meaningful names can't be found everytime, and it is often so that we generalize something, so we just interprete $x$ as something different, and maybe in the new interpretation the old meaningfull name would be totally senseless.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.