Questions tagged [terminology]

For questions about terms, definitions and related concepts used in science and mathematics.

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Why do we call Tycho Brahe by his first name?

Why do we use the fist name in Tychonic system or Tycho's comet of 1577, instead of using the last name of Tycho Brahe? For comparison, we have the Ptolemaic system and the Copernican system. I am ...
timur's user avatar
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31 votes
1 answer
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Who first defined the "equal-delta" or "delta over equal" ($\triangleq$) symbol?

The symbol $\triangleq$ is sometimes used in mathematics (and physics) for a definition. It is instantiated for instance in the Unicode Character 'DELTA EQUAL TO' (U+225C). The notation $t \triangleq ...
Laurent Duval's user avatar
28 votes
1 answer
565 views

Contributions to chemistry from medieval Arabia

A lot of chemical terms such as alcohol, aldehyde, sugar/azucar, amalgam etc. are of Arabic origin. Did Arabic chemistry in medieval times achieve any scientific insights still valid today (such as '...
Felix's user avatar
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28 votes
3 answers
2k views

Who attached Buniakovsky's name to the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality?

From time to time one sees insistence that the inequality name "Cauchy-Schwarz" should include Buniakovsky. This is based on a paragraph in a note to the St Petersburg Academy from 1859, where ...
zyx's user avatar
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25 votes
4 answers
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Who invented the integers?

I know that Kronecker claimed it was God's doing, and that even prehistoric humans used some ways of counting. But I am curious where the idea of a sequence of numbers stretching out into infinity ...
Conifold's user avatar
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25 votes
1 answer
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When did the names of scientists first become the names of scientific units?

Many scientific units are named after scientists, for example, Tesla for magnetic flux Farad for capacitance Newton for force. When did the tradition of naming scientific units begin?
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23 votes
2 answers
14k views

What is the etymology behind sine, cosine, tangent, etc.?

I heard somewhere that it was actually a mistake in translation. What's the correct story?
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23 votes
2 answers
2k views

Who first considered the $f$ in $f(x)$ as an object in itself, and who decided to call it a function?

The question is in the title, but allow me to provide some background. I’m aware that Leibniz introduced the word “function” into mathematics (around 1673) and that Johann Bernoulli or Euler ...
Michael Bächtold's user avatar
23 votes
4 answers
1k views

Did ancient/medieval non-European cultures have a concept of energy? If so, what are the similarities and differences to the modern concept?

For example, do we find something related to the modern energy concept in Ancient China, Ancient India, or the Islamic Golden Age? Among "similarities and differences", conservation is obviously ...
Michael Weiss's user avatar
22 votes
4 answers
3k views

Why are étale morphisms called "étale"?

Alexander Grothendieck developed the theory of "locally trivial coverings spaces for rings/schemes" in SGAI as an analog to the theory of covering spaces in algebraic topology. He called such ...
User0112358's user avatar
22 votes
2 answers
4k views

Why is there no named unit for momentum but there is one for energy?

Momentum and energy play very similar roles in mechanics, each being changed by the application of force over a interval. For energy the interval is in space and for momentum it is in time. Both have ...
dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten's user avatar
21 votes
1 answer
8k views

Why did angular momentum get the letter L

Note - this question was inspired by this questions on physics.SE. Many (most) physical quantities are denoted with a single letter - latin or greek. For many, the letter chosen makes sense: $t$ for ...
Floris's user avatar
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20 votes
4 answers
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Emmy Noether or Emmy Nöther?

Is it OK to write Emmy Nöther instead of Emmy Noether? I always assumed that the oe was an anglicization of ö (o with an umlaut). But when I look her up, I never see Nöther.
Stephen Montgomery-Smith's user avatar
16 votes
3 answers
3k views

What was the Big Bang model originally called?

The name "Big Bang theory" was coined by Sir Fred Hoyle. What did scientists originally call the Big Bang model?
blademan9999's user avatar
16 votes
2 answers
485 views

What is the origin of "an algebra" as in vector space with multiplication?

What is the origin of calling a vector space over a field $F$ endowed with multiplication an algebra? Tried searching, but not surprisingly Google likes to drop the article and just bring me to the ...
AJY's user avatar
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15 votes
4 answers
11k views

Who first used the word "calculus", and what did it describe?

This comment cites Wikipedia in stating that, before the development of the modern-day subject of calculus (i.e. analysis), the term "calculus" referred to general mathematics. Who first used the ...
HDE 226868's user avatar
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14 votes
2 answers
1k views

What is the story behind various uses of the word "spectrum"?

Here are five distinct uses of the word spectrum in physics and mathematics: Spectrum (optics): The range of colors in the rainbow Spectrum (particle physics): The range of electromagnetic ...
Paul Siegel's user avatar
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How did we come up with the name "atomic bomb"?

At first, my initiate question was: What is the difference between an atomic and a nuclear bomb?: Nuclear bombs are of two types — those that depend on fission, like atomic bombs, and those that ...
Ooker's user avatar
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14 votes
1 answer
287 views

First use of "Spur" (trace) for linear maps / matrices

Every student of linear algebra learns about the trace of a linear map. Its easiest (albeit not most conceptual) definition is: write the map as matrix, then the trace is the sum of the diagonal ...
Torsten Schoeneberg's user avatar
13 votes
1 answer
1k views

Who started calling the matrix multiplication "multiplication"?

As I searched for linear algebra, I found it odd that the linear map composition corresponds to the multiplication of matrices. Considering the intuition that the repetition of addition is ...
ististyle's user avatar
  • 303
13 votes
1 answer
544 views

Who coined the term "iff" for "if and only if"?

The OED's entry for "iff" lists this as the earliest usage: 1955 J. L. Kelley Gen. Topol. vii. 232: "F is equicontinuous at x iff there is a neighborhood of x whose image under every member of ...
Geremia's user avatar
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13 votes
2 answers
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Grassmann's "forms"

In Grassmann's famous article Ausdehnungslehre from 1844 (the one where he introduces what has come to be famous as Grassmann algebra) he uses the termionology "form" in place of, as he explains in ...
Urs Schreiber's user avatar
12 votes
4 answers
2k views

Why is the letter $\vec{r}$ used for position?

I'm sorry if this is a dumb question but I've never heard a convincing explanation for why seemingly all of physics names the position vector "$\vec{r}$". I've tried translating it into just about ...
Jules Randolph's user avatar
12 votes
3 answers
2k views

Did anybody know Pi well enough in 1592 to celebrate Pi day?

Pi to 7 decimal digits is: 3.1415926 Many people are familiar with Pi day. Celebrated on March 14 as per American date format, the holiday brings attention to the fact that the date resembles the ...
dotancohen's user avatar
12 votes
3 answers
447 views

Question on "What St. Augustine didn't say about mathematicians"

In the note "What St. Augustine didn't say about mathematicians" (which appeared sometime in 1991 in the pages of the Pi Mu Epsilon Journal), R. P. Boas, Jr. mentioned, among other things, that in the ...
José Hdz. Stgo.'s user avatar
12 votes
2 answers
676 views

Who coined the term ''Born's rule''?

Who assigned the term ''Born's rule'' to the statement that the measurement of a quantum observable is one of its eigenvalues, with a probability given by the square of the coefficient in the spectral ...
Arnold Neumaier's user avatar
11 votes
3 answers
692 views

Why don't we name the Higgs boson a "higgson"?

We have fermions (named after Fermi) and bosons (named after Bose). Why don't we name the particle corresponding to the Higgs field a "higgson"? The superpartner particle (sparticle) of the Higgs ...
Ooker's user avatar
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11 votes
2 answers
813 views

Is it true that Leibniz introduced "constant," "variable," and "function"?

I read in a not always reliable source (David Foster Wallace's Everything and More, p.104), that Leibniz introduced the terms constant, variable, and function, the latter as an alternative to Newton's ...
Joseph O'Rourke's user avatar
11 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why is differentiation under the integral sign named the Leibniz rule?

The question here asked why differentiation under the integral sign is named "Feynman's trick". That is a comparatively recent name for the method. Aside from the name "differentiation under the ...
KCd's user avatar
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11 votes
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754 views

Why does the statute mile have the length that it has?

Why was our (statute) mile established as it was? This happened in 1593, by the order of Elizabeth I which said: "A Mile ſhall contain eight Furlongs, every Furlong forty Poles, and every Pole ...
Alexandre Eremenko's user avatar
11 votes
2 answers
560 views

What's the etymology of an engineering/software bug?

I read the Wikipedia page on Software bugs. It does have a section on its etymology. Albeit interesting it doesn't answer my question but merely notes that the term bug was used in 1878: Use of the ...
Franck Dernoncourt's user avatar
11 votes
1 answer
290 views

Why were equivalence classes named classes rather than sets?

If $R\subseteq A\times A$ is an equivalence relation (i.e., a relation that is reflexive on $A$, symmetric, and transitive), then for each element $x\in A$, the subset $[x]_R=\{y\in A: \langle x,y\...
evenodd's user avatar
  • 213
10 votes
1 answer
2k views

What is the origin of the negation ( ¬ ) operator from logic?

I'm curious as to what the rationale was, and who the idea occurred to, for the ¬ symbol. I'll grant that more common mathematical symbols like +, −, × and ÷ are also likely unknown, but they seem to ...
Michael Macha's user avatar
10 votes
2 answers
9k views

Why was delta ($\Delta$) chosen to represent change of a quantity?

In many fields, it's common for $\Delta$ (the Greek letter delta) to represent a change or difference. Math uses it, physics uses it, engineering uses it, etc. Why was $\Delta$ chosen for this? I ...
Joe's user avatar
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10 votes
4 answers
1k views

Was the term "manifold" (or its German equivalent) chosen with the verb "to fold" in mind?

Recently I came across several papers of Monge and Lagrange, around the end of the 18th century, considering developable surface as 'folded' planes, using specifically the word "plié" (i.e. folded). ...
David's user avatar
  • 153
10 votes
2 answers
298 views

Who introduced the divisibility symbol $a\vert b$ ("$a$ divides $b$") and when?

I have just stumbled across this post and became curious about the same question, namely the part regarding the origin/history of the vertical bar symbol $a\vert b$ that we use to denote "a ...
BigbearZzz's user avatar
10 votes
1 answer
507 views

Indiana Pi Bill: Other attempts to establish mathematical truth by legislative fiat?

Wiki: The Indiana Pi Bill is the popular name for bill #246 of the 1897 sitting of the Indiana General Assembly, one of the most notorious attempts to establish mathematical truth by legislative ...
BCLC's user avatar
  • 267
10 votes
1 answer
1k views

What is the origin of the "Japanese bracket"?

In discussions of Sobolev spaces one often sees the Japanese bracket, $$\langle x \rangle = (1+|x|^2)^{1/2},$$ as useful shorthand. I was not easily able to find information about this term. (1) What ...
mme's user avatar
  • 211
10 votes
1 answer
566 views

What caused the name change from "analysis situs" to "topology"?

J. Alexander's 1926 paper, Combinatorial Analysis Situs, doesn't refer to the field as combinatorial topology. He mentions that combinatorial analysis situs is concerned with topological invariants ...
Catherine Ray's user avatar
10 votes
1 answer
498 views

How did the terms "center" and "centralizer" come up in group theory?

Usually the word center means the center of a circle. I have encountered the word center in group theory, but do not see any connection with the center of a circle. I think the history of group theory ...
tarit goswami's user avatar
10 votes
1 answer
1k views

Where did the naming structure of particles come from (suffix -on)?

I was looking at a list of particles, and I noticed that many of them ended in -on. Proton, electron, neutron, lepton, etc. Is there a historical (or linguistic) reason behind this naming structure?
galois's user avatar
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10 votes
1 answer
220 views

Riemann's moduli and Dedekind's modules: any connection?

The concept of a moduli space goes back to Riemann's count of $3g-3$ (or $3p-3$, in older notation) coordinates to describe Riemann surfaces of genus $g$ when $g > 1$. See the bottom of p. 33 here, ...
KCd's user avatar
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10 votes
1 answer
707 views

What is the origin of the "virtual particle pair" metaphor for vacuum fluctuations?

In any layman level description of vacuum fluctuations in quantum field theory the fluctuations are described as a pair of virtual particles spontaneously appearing then disappearing within some short ...
John Rennie's user avatar
9 votes
1 answer
504 views

When was the term "field" first used in maths?

My understanding is that the term "field" in science was first used in physics, while the mathematical term, at least the algebraic one, was more recent. Does anybody know when the first occurrence ...
mau's user avatar
  • 1,237
9 votes
2 answers
225 views

Who was the first to use the phrase "the standard model" of something?

I was doing some reading on stellar structure, and I noticed the phrase "the standard solar model" used to describe the structure of the Sun, and stars in general. It reminded me of the Standard Model ...
HDE 226868's user avatar
  • 8,333
9 votes
2 answers
3k views

What is the reasoning behind using "moment" in the "moment of inertia"?

Linear inertia is called mass. Rotational inertia is called moment of inertia. Moment of inertia is an odd choice for the term for this property. It doesn't seem to "fit" with the style or pattern of ...
Steeven's user avatar
  • 260
9 votes
1 answer
596 views

Who was first to differentiate between prime and irreducible elements?

I recently learned about irreducible and prime elements in a commutative ring. However, my professor was not quite sure who was the first to make this distinction, or give an example of an irreducible ...
David's user avatar
  • 113
9 votes
1 answer
2k views

When and by whom was the term 'momentum' introduced?

We know that up to 1726, when the third edition of the Principia was published, the name for $m\vec v$ was: quantitas motus. Do you know who substituted that with another Latin word: 'momentum'?
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9 votes
1 answer
15k views

Why are microwaves called "microwaves", when they are much longer than a micrometer?

If "millimeter waves" have a wavelength of about 1 mm, one might linguistically expect microwaves to have a wavelength of about three orders of magnitude less, not the same or greater. How did ...
WBT's user avatar
  • 231
9 votes
1 answer
1k views

Why is the Sophie Germain Identity called thus?

Several authors (z.B.: Arthur Engel in his Problem-Solving Strategies, Alexander Bogomolny in this entry of the Cut the Knot website) refer to the following (straightforward) consequence of the ...
José Hdz. Stgo.'s user avatar

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