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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

(p.160) Chapter 17 A Catalogue of Symbols
Enlightening Symbols

Joseph Mazur

Princeton University Press

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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