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Enlightening SymbolsA Short History of Mathematical Notation and Its Hidden Powers$
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Joseph Mazur

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780691173375

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.001.0001

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The Timid Symbol

The Timid Symbol

Chapter:
(p.127) Chapter 13 The Timid Symbol
Source:
Enlightening Symbols
Author(s):

Joseph Mazur

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.003.0013

This chapter discusses the evolution of symbols as used in mathematics. It begins by considering Michael Stifel's Arithmetica Integra, a treatise on arithmetic and algebra that included several symbols such as “plus,” “minus,” and “radix,” but not a sign for “equals.” The oldest notation for radicals (square roots, cube roots, and so on) dates back to about 1480, when a dot placed before the radicand was used to signify a square root: two dots for the fourth root, and three dots for the cube root. By 1524, the dot evolved into a blackened point with a tail bent upward to the right. Algebra at that time was concerned with solving cubic and higher degree polynomials. The chapter also examines Stifel's edition of Christoff Rudolff's Die Coss (1525) and the sign used by Nicolas Chuquet to symbolize the square root.

Keywords:   symbols, mathematics, Michael Stifel, Arithmetica Integra, algebra, square roots, polynomials, Christoff Rudolff, Die Coss, Nicolas Chuquet

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