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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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A Catalogue of Symbols

A Catalogue of Symbols

Chapter:
(p.160) Chapter 17 A Catalogue of Symbols
Source:
Enlightening Symbols
Author(s):

Joseph Mazur

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691173375.003.0017

This chapter focuses on the prospective symbols and labels introduced by William Oughtred, whose Clavis mathematicae, completed in 1631, used for the first time the St. Andrews cross x as a symbol of multiplication. Before that, multiplication was signified by juxtaposition; ab meant a times b. That was fine, as long as the multiplicands were symbols themselves. When it came to definite numbers, however, there was ambiguity. The use of juxtaposition was not a symbol; it was a concept of notation that tempted confusion. The chapter considers how most rhetorical mathematics writing shifted to symbolic writing and how algebra became heavily symbolic by the seventeenth century.

Keywords:   symbols, William Oughtred, Clavis mathematicae, multiplication, juxtaposition, numbers, notation, mathematics, algebra, St. Andrews cross

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