Questions tagged [terminology]

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

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27
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3answers
819 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 ...
26
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1answer
343 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 '...
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2answers
12k views

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 ...
23
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1answer
643 views

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 and Newtons for force. When did the tradition of naming scientific units begin?
23
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4answers
840 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 ...
20
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2answers
2k 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 ...
17
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1answer
4k 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 ...
16
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2answers
1k 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 ...
15
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2answers
3k 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?
14
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2answers
347 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 ...
14
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3answers
899 views

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 ...
13
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2answers
675 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 ...
13
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2answers
312 views

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 ...
12
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3answers
6k 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 ...
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863 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 ...
12
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3answers
327 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 ...
12
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2answers
612 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 ...
11
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2answers
341 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 ...
11
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1answer
295 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 ...
11
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2answers
315 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 ...
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0answers
16k views

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 \...
10
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3answers
721 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 ...
10
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1answer
362 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 ...
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1answer
500 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?
10
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1answer
126 views

How is the word kernel associated with distributions?

I am trying to rationalize the meaning of the term kernel, especially when it is associated with distributions. The English and German etymology all show that the literal meaning is corn (English) and ...
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2answers
461 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 ...
9
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1answer
272 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 ...
9
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1answer
341 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 ...
9
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1answer
831 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'?
9
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1answer
113 views

What is the reason for the 'electromagnetism terminology' when discussing the conserved quantities found through Noether's theorem?

In (theoretical) physics, it is customary to describe the system under consideration in terms of the Lagrangian. One of the major advantages of this approach is that it allows us to analyze the ...
9
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1answer
127 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, ...
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1answer
357 views

Why is one of Maxwell's equations named after Ampère? Who first named it after Ampère?

Ampère never wrote down what is confusingly called "Ampère's circuital law," not even the form without the displacement current term, as Ampère never dealt with the field concept.* Maxwell derived $$\...
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Whence “homomorphism”, “homomorphic”?

The kernel question leads to another : Today, homomorphism (resp. isomorphism) means what Jordan (1870) had called isomorphism (resp. holoedric isomorphism). How did the switch happen? “Homomorphic” ...
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2answers
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What is the status of the three crises in the history of mathematics?

I have seen a claim in some literature that there are three crises in the history of mathematics. The first is the discovery of $\sqrt2$ being irrational in Greek time which shook the belief that ...
8
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2answers
4k 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 ...
8
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4answers
479 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). ...
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3answers
158 views

Who are “analysts” and “synthesists” in mathematics?

What is the difference between the terms "analysis" and "synthesis" used in a mathematical context? For example, Hawkins's Emergence of the Theory of Lie Groups p. 3 says that Klein and Lie were ...
8
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1answer
380 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 ...
8
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1answer
232 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 ...
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2answers
332 views

Historical roots of the justification for the rule for multiplication of negative numbers

As a follow up question with respect to : Who wrote down minus times minus is equal to plus? and to : Historically, how did people define multiplication for negative numbers?, it can be interesting to ...
7
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4answers
678 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 ...
7
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3answers
110 views

What was the definition of a scientist and how did it evolve? When was science categorized?

I'm asking this question as I've noticed that scientists like Gauss, Newton, Euler, Lagrange etc developed theories in many scientific fields(these ones that I know of were mostly interested in math ...
7
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1answer
5k views

Who invented the mole?

Who invented, or first used, the concept of the mole? I did my own research and the closest I came was Avogadro’s constant, which was made not by Avogadro but rather by Jean Baptiste Perrin. However, ...
7
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1answer
186 views

Why do English volume units use base 2?

I would post this on Quora, since it is more of a "just wondering" sort of question, except that I much prefer StackExchange's platform: As weird as Imperial units generally are, English volume units ...
7
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1answer
146 views

Where does the letter S in “$S$-units” and in localization $S^{-1} R$ come from?

In number theory, we may encounter the notion of $S$-unit, $S$-integer, etc. where $S$ is a finite set of prime numbers (for simplicity). For instance, if $S = \{2,3\}$ then the $S$-integers are the ...
7
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1answer
380 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 ...
7
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1answer
250 views

When was the term 'elementary function' first coined and who did it?

The definition of what an elementary function is is quite arbitrary (see what math.SE has to say about it) and it makes me wonder why hasn't the mathematical community added other rather natural ...
7
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1answer
167 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 ...
7
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1answer
709 views

Why is the Heaviside step function named after Heaviside?

The Heaviside step function is usually defined as $$ \theta(x)=\left\{\begin{array}{ll}0&\text{if }x<0\\\tfrac12&\text{if }x=0\\1&\text{if }x>0.\\\end{array}\right. $$ It is ...
7
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1answer
217 views

What are the most famous examples of theory rebranding?

This question was sparked by the observation that the rebranding of the field called "neural networks" into "deep learning" is quite impressive. I wonder whether there have been similar renamings in ...