Question on the meaning, history, and usage of mathematical symbols and notation. Please remember to mention where (book, paper, webpage, etc.) you encountered any mathematical notation you are asking about.

learn more… | top users | synonyms

158
votes
22answers
9k views

Why do mathematicians use single-letter variables?

I have much more experience programming than I do with advanced mathematics, so perhaps this is just a comfort thing with me, but I often get frustrated trying to follow mathematical notation. ...
92
votes
22answers
10k views

Most ambiguous and inconsistent phrases and notations in maths

What are some examples of notations and words in maths which have been overused or abused to the point of them being almost completely ambiguous when presented in new contexts? For instance, a ...
91
votes
28answers
7k views

What are some examples of notation that really improved mathematics? [closed]

I've always felt that the concise, suggestive nature of the written language of mathematics is one of the reasons it can be so powerful. Off the top of my head I can think of a few notational ...
84
votes
6answers
10k views

What did Alan Turing mean when he said he didn't fully understand dy/dx?

Alan Turing's notebook has recently been sold at an auction house in London. In it he says this: Written out: The Leibniz notation $\frac{\mathrm{d}y}{\mathrm{d}x}$ I find extremely difficult ...
71
votes
5answers
3k views

Why does mathematical convention deal so ineptly with multisets?

Many statements of mathematics are phrased most naturally in terms of multisets. For example: Every positive integer can be uniquely expressed as the product of a multiset of primes. But this ...
64
votes
6answers
3k views

How Do You Actually Do Your Mathematics?

Better yet, what I'm asking is how do you actually write your mathematics? I think I need to give brief background: Through most of my childhood, I'd considered myself pretty good at math, up ...
54
votes
18answers
8k views

Is arrow notation for vectors “not mathematically mature”?

Assuming that we can't bold our variables (say, we're writing math as opposed to typing it), is it "not mathematically mature" to put an arrow over a vector? I ask this because in my linear algebra ...
52
votes
9answers
5k views

Why is 'abuse of notation' tolerated?

I've personally tripped up on a few concepts that came down to an abuse of notation, and I've read of plenty more on stack exchange. It seems to all be forgiven with a wave of the hand. Why do we ...
50
votes
17answers
3k views

Notations that are mnemonic outside of English

Some conventional math notations seem arbitrary to English speakers but were mnemonic to non-English speakers who started them. To give a simple example, Z is the symbol for integers because of the ...
44
votes
10answers
2k views

Have there been efforts to introduce non Greek or Latin alphabets into mathematics?

As a physics student, often I find when doing blackboard problems, the lecturer will struggle to find a good variable name for a variable e.g. "Oh, I cannot use B for this matrix, that's the magnetic ...
38
votes
6answers
3k views

What do mathematicians mean by “equipped”

I am a mathematical illiterate so I do not know what people mean when they say equipped. For example, I say that Hilbert space is a vector space equipped with a inner product. What does that ...
35
votes
2answers
2k views

What are the rules for equals signs with big-O and little-o?

This question is about asymptotic notation in general. For simplicity I will use examples about big-O notation for function growth as $n\to\infty$ (seen in algorithmic complexity), but the issues that ...
29
votes
9answers
3k views

What is a function?

I have been quite confused by the definition of functions and their uses.. First of all can one define functions in a clear understandable way, with a clear explanation of their uses, how they work ...
29
votes
11answers
5k views

What could be better than base 10?

Most people use base 10; it's obviously the common notation in the modern world. However, if we could change what became the common notation, would there be a better choice? I'm aware that it very ...
27
votes
5answers
2k views

Who invented $\vee$ and $\wedge$, $\forall$ and $\exists$?

I can rather easily imagine that some mathematician/logician had the idea to symbolize "it E xists" by $\exists$ - a reversed E - and after that some other (imitative) mathematician/logician had the ...
26
votes
13answers
5k views

Is it possible to have multiple decimal points in a number?

Is it ever possible to have multiple decimal points in a number? If so, how? For example is the value 1.1.2 possible? This is a question posed purely out of curiosity.
26
votes
2answers
718 views

What is the Coxeter diagram for?

I understand that Coxeter diagrams are supposed to communicate something about the structure of symmetry groups of polyhedra, but I am baffled about what that something is, or why the Coxeter ...
24
votes
4answers
4k views

What does .9 with a line above the 9 mean?

What does this mean? $$\Large.\overline9 $$ I've never seen this notation before.
22
votes
7answers
1k views

Notation for repeated application of function

If I have the function $f(x)$ and I want to apply it $n$ times, what is the notation to use? For example, would $f(f(x))$ be $f_2(x)$, $f^2(x)$, or anything less cumbersome than $f(f(x))$? This is ...
22
votes
7answers
3k views

Is $\exp(x)$ the same as $e^x$?

For homework I have to find the derivative of $\text {exp}(6x^5+4x^3)$ but I am not sure if this is equivalent to $e^{6x^5+4x^3}$ If there is a difference, what do I do to calculate the derivative of ...
22
votes
3answers
802 views

Who named “Quotient groups”?

Who decided to call quotient groups quotient groups, and why did they choose that name? A lot of identities such as $$\frac{G/A}{B/A}\cong \frac{G}{B}$$ suggest that whoever invented the notation ...
22
votes
2answers
2k views

Math symbol in German thesis from 1963

I have the following math symbol in a German thesis written in 1963. Is it anything more than just a function name? It is used in the following context and then goes on to state that "If the ...
21
votes
4answers
5k views

What is the meaning of the double turnstile symbol ($\models$)?

What's the meaning of the double turnstile symbol in logic or mathematical notation? : $\models$
21
votes
5answers
27k views

How does one denote the set of all positive real numbers?

What is the "standard" way to denote all positive (or non-negative) real numbers? I'd think $$ \mathbb R^+ $$ but I believe that that is usually used to denote "all real numbers including infinity". ...
21
votes
6answers
720 views

The formalism behind integration by substitution

When you are doing an integration by substitution you do the following working. $$\begin{align*} u&=f(x)\\ \Rightarrow\frac{du}{dx}&=f^{\prime}(x)\\ \Rightarrow ...
20
votes
12answers
5k views

How to represent the floor function using mathematical notation?

I'm curious as to how the floor function can be defined using mathematical notation. What I mean by this, is, instead of a word-based explanation (i.e. "The closest integer that is not greater than ...
20
votes
10answers
3k views

Why are equations written by equating something to zero?

A linear equation is $$ ax + b = 0 ; \,\, \,\, a\neq 0 $$ A quadratic equation is $$ax^2 + bx + c = 0 ; \,\, a\neq 0 $$ And so on... Why are all these equations written as $\dots = 0 $? Why do ...
20
votes
2answers
776 views

Notation: Why write the differential first?

From reading answers here, I've noticed that some people write integrals as $\int dx \; f(x)$, while other people write them as $\int f(x)\;dx$. I realize that there is no mathematical difference ...
18
votes
4answers
2k views

Is there a way to denote the calculation $1+2+3+\dots+n$? [duplicate]

Since $n!$ represents $$1\cdot2\cdot3\cdots n,$$ I am wondering if there is a way to represent $$1+2+3+\dots+n?$$ What are some usual notations for the computation of some common sequences? Any other ...
18
votes
8answers
4k views

How did the notation “ln” for “log base e” become so pervasive?

Wikipedia sez: The natural logarithm of $x$ is often written "$\ln(x)$", instead of $\log_e(x)$ especially in disciplines where it isn't written "$\log(x)$". However, some mathematicians ...
18
votes
3answers
5k views

When log is written without a base, is the equation normally referring to log base 10 or natural log?

For example, this question presents the equation $$\omega(n) < \frac{\log n}{\log \log n} + 1.4573 \frac{\log n}{(\log \log n)^{2}},$$ but I'm not entirely sure if this is referring to log base ...
18
votes
3answers
93k views

What does E mean in 9.0122222900391E-5?

I am not a mathematician(IANAM), however I wish I could be. My question: I often find this at the bottom of pages. Page generated in 0.00013899803161621 Sometimes, I come across Page ...
18
votes
7answers
5k views

How to write \mathcal letters by hand? [closed]

I have a formula in a paper that I want to write out by hand, and it contains two "D"s, a normal D, $D$ in latex, and a 'mathcal', caligraphic D, $\mathcal{D}$ in latex. What are some ...
18
votes
12answers
2k views

Alternative notation for exponents, logs and roots?

If we have $$ x^y = z $$ then we know that $$ \sqrt[y]{z} = x $$ and $$ \log_x{z} = y .$$ As a visually-oriented person I have often been dismayed that the symbols for these three operators ...
18
votes
3answers
641 views

How to answer a student objection to the use of “of” in pronouncing f(x)?

Once upon a time in elementary school, a student learned how to translate certain English words into math. For example, 'and' usually means 'plus' such as "If John has 3 oranges AND 5 apples, how ...
17
votes
7answers
3k views

What does $dx$ mean?

$dx$ appears in differential equations, such us derivatives and integrals. For example, a function $f(x)$ its first derivative is $\dfrac{d}{dx}f(x)$ and its integral $\displaystyle\int f(x)dx$. But ...
17
votes
10answers
1k views

Challenge: Demonstrate a Contradiction in Leibniz' differential notation

I want to know if the Leibniz differential notation actually leads to contradictions - I am starting to think it does not. And just to eliminate the most commonly showcased 'difficulty': For the ...
17
votes
2answers
19k views

Weird E letter? (sigma) [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What does the math notation $\sum$ mean? My school's prescribed book uses the weird letter E character without explaining what it is in the first chapter when it talks ...
17
votes
4answers
685 views

How to explain this quirk of the chain rule?

Assume I have a function $f = f(y, \phi(y,x))$ and I want to calculate $\frac{\partial f}{\partial y}$, I use the chain rule to get \begin{equation} \frac{\partial f}{\partial y} = \frac{\partial ...
17
votes
2answers
1k views

The Gamma function and the Pi function

I have been studying differential equation, in particular special functions. Euler's Gamma function, and Gauss's Pi function are essentially the same, differing only by an offset of one unit. for ...
16
votes
6answers
3k views

How many digits does the integer zero have?

Should zero be classified as having no digits, or 1 digit?
16
votes
5answers
959 views

Notation Question: What does $\vdash$ mean in logic?

In a "math structures" class at the community college I'm attending (uses the book Discrete Math by Epp, and is basically a discrete math "light" edition), we've been covering some basic logic. I've ...
16
votes
5answers
4k views

Contradiction! Any Symbol for?

Perhaps, this question has been answered ago but I don't aware of its existing answer. Is there any international icon or symbol for showing Contradiction or reacing a contradiction in Mathematical ...
16
votes
3answers
10k views

Symbol for elementwise multiplication of vectors

This is a notation question. Assume one is given two vector $\mathbf{a}$ and $\mathbf{b}$, and one constructs a third vector $\mathbf{c}$ whose elements are given by $$c_k=a_k b_k$$ Is there any ...
16
votes
1answer
271 views

How and why did Weierstrass $\wp$ get its special symbol?

I kind of always hated drawing the Weierstrass $\wp$ symbol by hand, and it struck me as odd how and why it achieved its special status in the first place. After all, there are tons of other important ...
15
votes
9answers
1k views

Is there an interval notation for complex numbers?

Just as $$\{x \in \mathbb{R}: a \leq x \leq b\}$$ can be written in the more-compact form $[a,b],$ is there an analogous notation for $$\{z \in \mathbb{C}:z=x+yi, x \in[a,b], y \in[c,d]\} \quad ?$$ ...
15
votes
4answers
5k views

Why does drawing $\square$ mean the end of a proof?

To end a proof, I often write "as was to be shown" or "q.e.d". Both of these terms make sense to me as a reader. On the other hand, I feel a little strange to put down $\square$ although I saw it ...
15
votes
3answers
3k views

If $\frac{dy}{dt}dt$ doesn't cancel, then what do you call it?

I have $y$ is a function of $t$. I have reached a situation here where I need to evaluate $$\displaystyle \int_0^b{\frac{dy}{dt}dt}$$ Now clearly $y$ has dependence on $t$, otherwise $\displaystyle ...
15
votes
5answers
2k views

Usage of dx in Integrals

All the integrals I'm familiar with have the form: $\int f(x)\mathrm{d}x$. And I understand these as the sum of infinite tiny rectangles with an area of: $f(x_i)\cdot\mathrm{d}x$. Is it valid ...
15
votes
3answers
17k views

Element-wise (or pointwise) operations notation?

Is there a notation for element-wise (or pointwise) operations? For example, take the element-wise product of two vectors x and y (in Matlab, x .* y, in numpy x*y), producing a new vector of same ...