# Where do math symbols come from? - John David Walters

TLDRIn the 16th century, mathematician Robert Recorde created the equals sign to avoid writing 'is equal to' repeatedly. This symbol, along with others like the plus sign and the exclamation mark for factorials, was invented to simplify mathematical notation. Symbols in math, often from the Latin or Greek alphabets, represent quantities, operations, and relationships, making complex calculations more manageable. While some symbols are intuitively linked to their meanings, others are arbitrary. Understanding them involves memorization and practice. If we met an alien civilization, their mathematical symbols might differ but would serve similar functions.

### Takeaways

- 📚 In the 16th century, Robert Recorde introduced the equals sign to simplify writing 'is equal to' repeatedly.
- 🔡 The equals sign could have been designed differently, but its current form became standardized through widespread adoption.
- 🧩 Math symbols are diverse, including lines, dots, arrows, English and Greek letters, and superscripts or subscripts.
- 😕 The abundance of symbols in math can be intimidating and confusing for those unfamiliar with their meanings.
- 🔗 Some symbols have a direct connection to the concepts they represent, like the plus sign from the Latin word 'et'.
- 🎨 Other symbols were chosen more arbitrarily, such as the factorial symbol introduced by Christian Kramp.
- 📝 Symbols in math were created to avoid repetition and to express complex ideas concisely.
- 🔢 Latin and Greek letters are commonly used to represent unknown quantities, variables, and specific numbers that are difficult to write out.
- 🔄 Symbols also represent operations, like multiplication and exponentiation, which simplify mathematical expressions.
- 📉 The sigma symbol is used to represent a sum of sequential terms, making complex calculations more manageable.
- 📝 Symbols provide a shorthand for expressing calculations, making them easier to understand and manipulate.
- 👽 If we were to encounter an alien civilization, they might have different symbols, but the concept of symbols would likely be universal.

### Q & A

### Who was the mathematician that introduced the equals sign?

-The mathematician who introduced the equals sign was Robert Recorde.

### What book did Robert Recorde write to teach algebra to English students?

-Robert Recorde wrote 'The Whetstone of Witte' to teach algebra to English students.

### Why did Robert Recorde decide to use two parallel horizontal line segments as the equals sign?

-Robert Recorde chose two parallel horizontal line segments for the equals sign because he believed no two things could be more equal.

### What is the origin of the plus sign for addition?

-The plus sign for addition originated from a condensing of the Latin word 'et' meaning 'and'.

### Why did Christian Kramp introduce an exclamation mark for factorials?

-Christian Kramp introduced an exclamation mark for factorials because he needed a shorthand for expressions in his mathematical work.

### What is the purpose of using mathematical symbols?

-Mathematical symbols are used to avoid repeating themselves or having to use a lot of words to write out mathematical ideas, making expressions more concise and easier to manipulate.

### What do mathematical symbols often represent?

-Mathematical symbols often represent operations, quantities that are unknown, relationships between variables, specific numbers that frequently appear, sets of numbers, and whole equations.

### How does the multiplication sign serve as shorthand in mathematics?

-The multiplication sign serves as shorthand by abbreviating the repeated addition of the same number, making it more compact and easier to write.

### What does an exponent indicate in mathematics?

-An exponent indicates how many times a number should be multiplied by itself.

### What is the significance of the capital sigma in mathematical expressions?

-The capital sigma is used to represent a long string of sequential terms added together, collapsing them into a single expression.

### How do mathematical symbols provide instructions for calculations?

-Mathematical symbols provide succinct instructions for calculations by condensing complex operations into a compact and elegant expression that is easier to understand and apply.

### Why might an alien civilization have a different set of symbols but similar concepts?

-An alien civilization might have a different set of symbols because symbols are often culturally and historically influenced, but if they think similarly, their symbols may correspond directly to ours in concept.

### Outlines

### 📚 The Origin of the Equals Sign

In the 16th century, Robert Recorde, a mathematician, authored 'The Whetstone of Witte', an algebra textbook for English students. To simplify his writing, he introduced the equals sign (=), replacing the phrase 'is equal to'. He chose two parallel lines to symbolize equality, a decision that was not arbitrary but chosen for its representational value. The sign could have been different, as evidenced by variations used by others, but it became a standard due to its widespread adoption, much like a meme. The paragraph also discusses the plethora of symbols in math, their origins, and their purposes, such as the plus sign from the Latin word 'et' and the factorial symbol introduced by Christian Kramp using an exclamation mark.

### Mindmap

### Keywords

### Robert Recorde

### The Whetstone of Witte

### Equals sign (=)

### Plus sign (+)

### Factorial (!)

### Symbols in mathematics

### Operations

### Christian Kramp

### Greek letters

### Mathematical notation

### Highlights

In the 16th century, Robert Recorde introduced a symbol for equality to simplify writing 'is equal to' repeatedly.

The equals sign was chosen for its representation of balance and equality.

The choice of symbols in mathematics can sometimes be arbitrary, like the factorial symbol introduced by Christian Kramp.

Mathematical symbols were created to avoid repetition and to express complex ideas succinctly.

Latin and Greek letters are commonly used in mathematics to represent unknown quantities and variables.

Specific frequently occurring numbers are often represented by letters to avoid cumbersome decimal representations.

Symbols like multiplication and exponentiation condense repeated operations into single expressions.

The capital sigma symbolizes the addition of a long string of sequential terms.

Mathematical symbols simplify lengthy calculations and make them easier to manipulate.

Symbols provide instructions for performing calculations, as shown in the example of a number's operations.

The compact and elegant expression of mathematical symbols contrasts with verbose textual descriptions.

Some symbols, like the equals sign, communicate meaning through their form.

Many mathematical symbols are arbitrary and require memorization and application to understand.

An alien civilization might have different symbols, but likely would also use symbols in their mathematics.

Alien symbols might correspond directly to ours, such as a multiplication sign or symbol for pi.

The adoption of mathematical symbols is similar to the spread of a meme, becoming a standard through widespread use.

The wealth of symbols in mathematics can be intimidating, but they serve a practical purpose in communication and calculation.