Questions tagged [terminology]

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

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1answer
153 views

Where does the habit of calling the elements of a projective Hilbert space “rays” originate from?

When describing the projective Hilbert space as the state space in quantum mechanics, physicists habitually refer to its elements as "rays in Hilbert space", while the mathematical literature seems to ...
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75 views

Etymology of 'qubit'; is there any relation to cubits?

Whilst several not-very-authoritative sources e.g. Wikipedia state that the word qubit was derived, partially, as a play on the word cubit (obviously it also stands for 'quantum bit'), is there any ...
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1answer
194 views

Why and who was the first to denote the square root operation in fractional form as $1/2$

Basically, the square root operation was discovered and proved rigorously from the Pythagorean theorem, it was denoted by square root of a rational number say $n$ as $\sqrt{n}$, but at a later stage, ...
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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 ...
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1answer
230 views

When was a partition of unity discovered?

A partition of unity is a mathematical concept in geometry. I want to know when and in what context this concept appeared.
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194 views

What is the origin of the terminology 'spin up/down'?

In my research area one seminal reference is H. Bethe, ''Zur Theorie der Metalle'', Z. Phys. 71 205 (1931), see also the English translation by T. C. Dorlas (2009). On page 206 of the original ...
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1answer
153 views

What is the first usage of the term “Adjoint” and why was this word chosen?

The term "Adjoint" appears in many different mathematical areas and for sometimes seemingly different kinds of things. Wikipedia says -- "In mathematics, the term adjoint applies in several ...
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93 views

Why isn't the ${\gamma}^5$ matrix not called ${\gamma}^4$?

This is not really a physical question, but it relates to notation in QED. The ${\gamma}^5$ matrix is defined as $${\gamma}^5=i{\gamma}^0 {\gamma}^1{\gamma}^2{\gamma}^3$$ Wouldn't it be more ...
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190 views

Why is the term “kernel” used in algebra? [duplicate]

What was the motivation to use the word "kernel" in algebra to denote the set of all arguments which are mapped to the idendity element (by a homomorphism)? Who introduced it?
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864 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 ...
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98 views

What is the history of why electrical circuit diagrams list positive as the direction of electron flow?

In the study of electrical engineering circuit diagrams it is usually the norm to show the + ( positive ) polarity as the direction of motion. However in reality the electron is the elementary ...
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450 views

Why do we say “Matrices” and “Vertices”, but “Complexes” rather than “Complices”?

I had a professor point out that it is odd we refer to more than one chain complex as "complexes." It seems that in most other definitions in math we stick to the typical latin plural, i.e. we say ...
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1answer
164 views

Why is the SI prefix k- lower case?

In the SI unit prefixes, there's a general pattern of using uppercase prefixes for multipliers larger than 1 and lower case for prefixes that are smaller than one. However, this is not a universal ...
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1answer
129 views

How is “soul” meant to be understood in the context of the “Soul Theorem”

My mathematics are still quite rudimentary, but am I correct in assuming this is a reference to the "finite" state of closed manifolds as opposed to a potential, "infinite" state of the non-compacted ...
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204 views

What is the etymology of lower case p as the operator for the negative of the common logarithm?

In high school we were taught that the formula for pH is the negative of the common logarithm of hydrogen ion concentration: pH = -log[H+]. It wasn't until I took organic chemistry that the "acid ...
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1answer
184 views

First use of litte $o_p$ (little $o$ in probability) notation?

I have a follow up question from my previous question on math.SE, where I asked about the First use of little $o$ notation - for those who want to check - the answer goes back to Landau ($1909$), this ...
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1answer
372 views

Who came up with the link between the spectrum of an operator and the poles of a meromorphic function?

From Dieudonné's "History of Functional Analysis" I learned that Picard in 1893 gave a characterization of an eigenvalue of the Laplacian as the simple pole of a meromorphic function. Is there an ...
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148 views

Why are rings called rings?

I copied the question from https://math.stackexchange.com/q/61497/378968 because I think it is more suitable for this site and I think an answer to this question here could do better than: Hilbert ...
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4answers
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Why are canonical coordinates canonical?

Canonical coordinates are coordinates $q_i$ and $p_i$ in phase space that are used in the Hamiltonian formalism. The canonical coordinates satisfy the fundamental Poisson bracket relations: \...
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2answers
874 views

Analysis vs Synthesis in Greek Mathematics

I am trying to understand the difference in "analysis" and "synthesis" as used by the ancient Greek mathematicians. Most sources characterize synthesis as working from givens to a desired conclusion, ...
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1answer
54 views

What is the connection between Lamarck's Mediterranean mussel and the province of Gallia?

The scientific name of the Mediterranean Mytilus is Mytilus galloprovincialis, with Lamarck being reported as the creator. I wonder where this name comes from, in particular what is the (supposed) ...
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103 views

Coordinate axis - Why the name “axis”?

In "natural life" "axis" is often used in terms of an axis of rotation. But in the mathematical sense, it's more used like a ruler. One could say an axis in "natural life" sense has something to do ...
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236 views

source of “logistic growth”?

I've been trying to find the source of the name of the DE modelling population growth known as logistic growth, for some time: why "Logistic" ? So far all my attempts to research it have hit dead ends ...
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1answer
92 views

Who originated the biological senses of palindrome and pseudopalindrome?

One would think that when DNA biology uses the word palindrome it would mean approximately the same thing as palindrome in other contexts. As I understand it, this is not true. Whereas, a normal ...
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2answers
337 views

Grassmann Formula

I'm in my first year of Mathematics at the University. Recently, we've learnt about Grassmann Formula and when I was making a little research on the internet, I couldn't find a single reference ...
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754 views

Why the thermoelectric figure of merit is denoted “ZT”?

Why the thermoelectric figure of merit is denoted ZT? Does ZT come from the abbreviation of words in some language? Update: So far T has been figured out --- it is the temperature to make the whole ...
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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 ...
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1answer
101 views

Were integrals really called solution curves (or vice versa)?

For some reason I recall hearing that around the time Euler wrote his Calculus books (1768-1770), or even before then, what we call integrals now were called solution cuvres (or even possibly the ...
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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?
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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 \...
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3answers
188 views

First mention of Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic

Without a Disquisitiones Arithmeticae at hand, I may ask... When the unique factorization theorem was first called the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic?
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2answers
295 views

When was the convention for the indefinite integral $\int\frac{1}{x}dx$ changed?

In Europe, in the 20th century, $\int\frac{1}{x}dx$ equalled $\ln{x}+C$. (I have references from Poland for 1930-1947 and the UK for the 1960s and 1970s). Now, if one mentions $\int\frac{1}{x}dx=\ln{...
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113 views

Origins and history of branched covering

During my research on branched coverings of the projective plane, I am interested to know the origins and history of branched coverings of the projective plane and the projective line, together with ...
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227 views

Introduction of $\imath$ and $\jmath$ notations for the imaginary unit

The imaginary unit is generally denoted $i$ or $\imath$. I have learned that the term imaginary ("imaginaires") was coined by R. Descartes in 1637, and the "i" notation was introduced by L. Euler (cf. ...
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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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673 views

Origin of “Spline” word

I was studying interpolation by Splines in numerical analysis and started to wonder the word's origin. I've found that it was a system used in technical drawings using weights but couldn't find why ...
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1answer
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What is the origin of the term “ordinary differential equations”?

Who has first used the term "ordinary differential equation"? Is it known, why the term "ordinary" is used here? What makes an ODE "ordinary"?
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on the classification of singular points

After reading this question and the answers to it, I am interested o know who were the first mathematicians who started classifying singular points of curves: i.e. different kind of nodes, of cusps ...
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81 views

Which is the first reference using the terminology “Chinese Remainder Theorem” for this theorem?

The Chinese Remainder Theorem is one of the fundamental theorems in modular arithmetic. As far as I know, this terminology for the theorem is due to the fact that the Chinese mathematicians were the ...
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95 views

Why were nature, natural science, physics, medicine all considered the same subject and so defined with the same noun?

This question pursues the history of this noun and its etymons; compare with ELU and FSE. physic (n.) [1.] c. 1300, fysike, "art of healing, medical science," also "natural science" (c. 1300), ...
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553 views

History of the definition of Injective & Surjective Function

I'm a college student, just beginning to study Elementary Set Theory. In studying about the definition of injective and surjective function, out of curiosity, it came to my mind a question about the ...
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1answer
199 views

Who coined kernel in mathematics?

I'm convinced that there is no such a mathematician whose name is "kernel". The wiki article about kernel doesn't include history in its content. So I wonder, who is the first mathematician to use ...
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381 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 ...
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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 ...
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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 ...
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141 views

How did “one-to-one” come to be used to refer to injective functions?

I have always had a hard time explaining to my students the term one-to-one. After making sure my students understand "in", "sur" and "bi", the Bourbaki terms, injective, surjective and bijective make ...
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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 ...
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688 views

What is the origin of “ortho-,” “meta-,” “para-,” in chemistry?

The prefix "ortho-" means straight or right; "meta-" means beyond or after; "para-" means beside or along. How, then, did ortho-, meta- and para- come to refer to the carbon positions one, two, and ...
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1answer
63 views

Origin of use of “quotient” to describe structures induced by equivalence classes

I'm sure this question has been asked somewhere, but I have been unable to find it. Why is it that when we have some set $X$ with an equivalence relation $\equiv$, and $X$ has some structure (e.g. a ...
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2answers
6k views

Was the word 'gravity' an invention of Newton?

Before Newton many phycisists try to understand nature and the rotations of planets. But Newton founded his laws of gravity. But was he the first who used the word gravity or when was it first used? ...