# Questions tagged [terminology]

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

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### Who wrote down minus times minus is equal to plus? [duplicate]

I am not here to ask why "minus times minus is plus", this is a basic arithmetic fact. The related question most people ask is: why does $-\times-=+$. Of, course there may be several explanations for ...
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### What was the evolution of "basis" and "generating set" in algebra?

Today, I've heard someone speak of a basis (of an ideal), meaning a generating set. All the time, I was fine with the term Gröbner-basis, but when it comes without the prefix, it's a bit funny, since ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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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### 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 ...
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### "Calories" vs "calories"

Why was it decided to differentiate kcals from calories with a capital 'C'? It seems kind of odd to me. 1 Cal = 1 kcal = 1000 cal What were the reasons ...
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### Is $\Gamma^i_{jk}$ the Christoffel symbol or the Christoffel symbols?

For years, I have been perplexed that the expression $\Gamma^i_{jk}$ is often referred to in the plural as "the Christoffel symbols", although sometimes it is referred to in the singular as "the ...
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### What was the system for naming scientific ideas / inventions?

I'm interested in tracing the history of the word "Optical Illusion." See these two questions History of optics and https://english.stackexchange.com/q/260495/129806 It seems Greek and Latin words ...
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### What word meaning "random" was used before the word "random" got popularized?

In the What is Random? vlog of the Vsauce channel, Michael says (start from 3:25): In the 1300s, random meant running or at great speed. Later, it would be used to describe things that have no ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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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### 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 ...
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### When was the term "union" first used?

I found out that the symbol for union, ∪, was created in 1895 by Giuseppe Peano in his Formulario Mathematico but of course the use of the word "union" in mathematics was older. Do you have a ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### Do the words 'graphing' a function and 'graph' theory have a common ancestor?

When saying graph in mathematics, it can be either a graph of a function, or a graph in graph theory. However mathematically they have nothing in common. How did they get the same name? I know graph ...
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### Why do we call a linear mapping "linear mapping"?

According to P. M. Cohn's Classic Algebra, for historical reasons we call a linear mapping "linear mapping". What are the historical reasons that led to the adoption of the term "linear ...
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### From the perspective of etymology, why was the word "magma" chosen to describe a set with a single binary operation defined on it?

According to Wikipedia, the choice of vocabulary was made partially to avoid overloading the term "groupoid". However, that still does not explain etymologically speaking, "magma" was chosen instead ...
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### 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 ...
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### Origin of "dust" in cosmology?

In cosmology, "dust" refers to a pressureless perfect fluid, which essentially means a continuum of nonrelativistic material particles, such as galaxies. This is a picturesque and unusual piece of ...
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### 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 ...
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### What is the origin of the term recombination?

During the introductory lecture to a cosmology course I'm currently taking, there was a brief discussion of some of the "highlights" of the Big Bang model. One of these is, of course, recombination. ...
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### Modern usage of alchemical symbols

As far as I know, not many (if any) alchemical symbols have survived in modern nomenclature of science, either in chemistry or any other. I think $\LaTeX$ doesn't even support most of them! I know ...
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### How did the term "Michel electron" come about?

The Michel electron is what we call the electron produced from muon decay, and it's named after Louis Michel. I mention this in a paper I'm writing, and I was told that I need to cite it. I can't find ...
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### 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 ...
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### Why is magnetic flux density named after Nikola Tesla?

I have my respect for Mr Tesla, but it seems weird that "he" was chosen to be the units of magnetic flux density. I mean, he didn't contribute much to magnetic fields theory, nor did he work ...
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### Origin of the Hankel contour?

Who was the first to publish a Hankel contour integral? See notes in my answer to the MO-Q How does one motivate the analytic continuation of the Riemann zeta function?.
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### History of the Wreath product

Why is the wreath product so named? If possible, please provide a citation.
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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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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, ...
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### Origin of "world-line?"

The term "world-line" is a little odd in English. Google n-grams shows the English term going back to 1915 in the books google has scanned. Is its origin in Minkowski, Raum und Zeit (1909), ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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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### 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 ...
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### What's the origin and meaning of the adjective "free" in mathematics?

It's pretty common to call a group, ring or module free when it has a 'basis', but unlike other mathematical definitions whose names can be easily related to the concept they describe (e.g. the ...
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### Is "de" in "de Morgan" supposed to be capitalized or not?

I am currently writing about the "de Morgan's laws" and have seen both "de Morgan" and "De Morgan." Which of these is correct?
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### 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?
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### History of the term innovation and its difference with invention?

Today, research and science is often associated to innovation (particularly by governments and funding agencies). I would like to understand how we got here and when the use of innovation as a ...
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### How did the 'Poincaré patches' get their name?

De Sitter space and Anti de Sitter space are two of the most important solutions to the Einstein field equations. One famous method to obtain these spacetimes is to consider a $N$-dimensional ...
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### When were the abbreviations of chemical elements standardized?

This is going to be tricky because the discovery/synthesis of elements has taken place over centuries. It might be best to restrict this purely to the elements contained on Dmitri Mendeleyev's table, ...
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### 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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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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### 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 ...
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