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.

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150
votes
22answers
8k 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. ...
83
votes
24answers
7k views

What are some examples of notation that really improved mathematics?

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 ...
82
votes
21answers
9k 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 ...
65
votes
5answers
2k 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 ...
61
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 ...
47
votes
16answers
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
9answers
4k 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 ...
42
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 ...
29
votes
11answers
3k 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 ...
28
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 ...
26
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 ...
25
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.
23
votes
2answers
439 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 ...
22
votes
3answers
738 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
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 ...
20
votes
6answers
598 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 ...
19
votes
12answers
4k 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 ...
19
votes
4answers
4k 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? : $\models$
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
2answers
612 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 ...
17
votes
3answers
615 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
2answers
14k 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
5answers
21k 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". ...
17
votes
4answers
663 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 ...
16
votes
3answers
3k 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 ...
16
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 ...
16
votes
7answers
4k 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 ...
16
votes
11answers
1k 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 ...
16
votes
2answers
972 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
0answers
202 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
6answers
2k 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 ...
15
votes
3answers
70k 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 ...
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
5answers
2k 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 ...
15
votes
4answers
801 views

Donald Knuth's summation notation confuses me.

I do not understand a lot of cases of Knuth's summation notation in Concrete Mathematics. In general, I cannot seem to get a grasp on the commutative law as applied to manipulating sums. The ...
15
votes
3answers
370 views

Mathematical Notation and its importance

You can see how mathematical notation evolved during the last centuries here. I think everyone here knows that a bad notation can change an otherwise elementar problem into a difficult problem. Just ...
14
votes
4answers
790 views

Set builder notation, left or right of :| convention

Set builder notation which specify a subset such as $Z$ or $R$ tend to put this condition on the left, whereas other conditions go on the right. $$\{ x ∈ Z : x > 0 \}$$ Why is this preferred ...
14
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 ...
14
votes
6answers
6k views

What software and/or language to use to take Math lecture notes?

I have a terrible hand-writing and I'm very good at typing, so I had an idea about taking my math lecture notes using a computer. I've tried using a simple syntax (using purely ASCII) but it's ...
14
votes
3answers
8k 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 ...
14
votes
4answers
554 views

Solving (quadratic) equations of iterated functions, such as $f(f(x))=f(x)+x$

In this thread, the question was to find a $f: \mathbb{R} \to \mathbb{R}$ such that $$f(f(x)) = f(x) + x$$ (which was revealed in the comments to be solved by $f(x) = \varphi x$ where $\varphi$ is ...
14
votes
2answers
1k views

What does “∈” mean?

I have started seeing the "∈" symbol in math. What exactly does it mean? I have tried googling it but google takes the symbol out of the search.
14
votes
2answers
353 views

The double factorial notation

The double factorial is defined as $$n!! = \begin{cases} n \cdot (n-2) \cdot (n-4) \cdots 3 \cdot 1 = \dfrac{(n+1)!}{2^{(n+1)/2}((n+1)/2)!} & \text{ If $n \in \mathbb{Z}^+$, is odd}\\ n \cdot ...
13
votes
11answers
5k views

Dividing by 2 numbers at once, what is the answer?

Let's say i have 4/1/5. or 4 divided by 1 divided by 5. Are there any rules that i am allowed to use to stop any mistakes?, for example this has 2 solutions, 4/5 , and 20. Edit: Thanks for your ...
13
votes
8answers
860 views

Why does the logarithm require a special notation?

Since the logarithm is the reversed exponentiation, why does it need a distinct notation for it? Why can't we just ask: $$2^x=8$$ Instead of: $$\log_2 8=x$$
13
votes
7answers
813 views

What does $\ll$ mean?

I saw two less than signs on this Wikipedia article and I was wonder what they meant mathematically. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_tank_problem EDIT: It looks like this can use TeX commands. ...
13
votes
4answers
4k 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 ...