There is a famous image that pretends to explain the origin of the shapes of the digits by the number of angles in them.

I do know that it is erroneous but I would like to know if this is an old legend or a recent one. After all, maybe centuries ago, someone spread this false etymology, maybe ten years ago.image

  • $\begingroup$ It is not only erroneous, there is not a single digit here which had the same number of lines... except 0. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jan 21, 2021 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ Anyways, the form of the digit is coming from the arabs, and they got it from the hindus, as far I know. It has nothing to do with the number of the lines in them, they also looked differently in the ancient Europe, yet more different was the arab version and so on. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jan 21, 2021 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ It is not the number of lines, it is the number of angles… But anyway the question is not about the history of the shapes as we usually know them $\endgroup$
    – KimP
    Jan 21, 2021 at 21:30
  • $\begingroup$ My mistake, sorry. But I am not sure how is it science/math history, but it might be accepted as border case (I do not vote it for closure). $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jan 21, 2021 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


In the book Florian Cajori "A History of Mathematical Notations" on pp 65-66 says: "A French writer, P. Voizot<a reference to 1899 work>, entertained the theory that originally a numeral contained as many angles as it represents units. ... He did not claim credit for this explanation, but ascribed it to a writer in the Genova Catholico Militarite".


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