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I debated whether I should post this on the TeX forum or here. Mathematics seemed more appropriate.

LaTeX has a ridiculous amount of symbols, including countless variations of the integral sign and variations of the logical symbols. So while looking through the compendium of symbols I began to wonder, "I've never seen half (probably more than half) these symbols ever used, what do they even mean?" So I began to wonder if they (the symbols that I have never seen) even had a formal or informal meaning.

So, in summary, do all of the symbols in LaTeX have a meaning, or are their meanings to be defined by the user, who is in need of new notation?

Just going to upload screen cap of symbols,

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    $\begingroup$ It would help if you post an example. $\endgroup$
    – Brad
    Jun 5, 2014 at 22:47
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    $\begingroup$ Most of them have meanings, but not necessarily universal meanings. Some are variations on a theme, such as $\phi$ and $\varphi$ both representing lowercase $\Phi$, and which is user preference most of the time. Other times, there are simply needs to communicate ideas using a variation on a common symbol. The great number of "equals"-style symbols is indicative of the wide range of equivalence relations in various branches of mathematics, for instance. Sometimes, symbols are available but have no commonly-understood use; in that case, it is up to the author to define them ad hoc. $\endgroup$
    – Emily
    Jun 5, 2014 at 22:49
  • $\begingroup$ $\doublecap, \ltimes$, etc. I don't know what they mean either. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2014 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ There are examples for both - commonly used symbols, using which in a different context will cause confusion, and not so common which may be used in a Humpty-Dumpty style ("When I use a word ... it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.") $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2014 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say - they wouldn't be added if they had no meanings. $\endgroup$
    – Shahar
    Jun 5, 2014 at 22:52

3 Answers 3

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$\LaTeX$ is not only for mathematics. For symbols you have: zodiac signs, cards suits, emoticons, etc... To see the capabilities of $\TeX$ and $\LaTeX$ check this awesome answers: https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/1319/showcase-of-beautiful-typography-done-in-tex-friends

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh my god, the bible... $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2014 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ I'm well aware, I'm talking about variations of mathematical symbols that I know and brand new symbols included in symbol packages earmarked for mathematics $\endgroup$
    – JasonW
    Jun 6, 2014 at 1:03
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I guess you can make all the symbols have mathematical meanings, you can just take a symbol you like and assign to it a special meaning. For example let $\daleth_k(n)$ be the number of bijections from a set of size $n$ to the same set of size $n$ which contains no cycles of length less than $k$.

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  • $\begingroup$ I just feel like the symbols should be used in an "official" context. Rather than just being used ad hoc $\endgroup$
    – JasonW
    Jun 6, 2014 at 20:07
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No. Counterexample:

$\aleph$ has a meaning (initial ordinals), $\beth$ has a meaning (power set cardinals), even $\gimel$ has a meaning (a cardinal function $\gimel(\kappa)=\kappa^{\operatorname{cf}(\kappa)}$).

But $\daleth$ doesn't have a meaning.

(The first four letters of the Hebrew alphabet are $\aleph,\beth,\gimel,\daleth$.)

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    $\begingroup$ I consulted on Latex in the early days. I'm responsible for $\bigcirc$ $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Jun 5, 2014 at 23:06
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting... Who's responsible for $\daleth$? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila
    Jun 5, 2014 at 23:07
  • $\begingroup$ see en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Daleth $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Jun 5, 2014 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ My dad always wanted me to read Bashevis Singer when I was a child, but somehow I never did. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila
    Jun 5, 2014 at 23:17

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