Jeff Miller has kept up an invaluable set of pages on the origins of both math words and math symbolism.

Unfortunately, the old host for this resource was shut down at the end of October.

Fortunately, he’s moved everything to tripod.com! Unfortunately, not many online links have been updated yet, so for reference I link here:

Earliest Known Uses of Some of the Words of Mathematics

Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols

Ambiguously Defined Mathematical Terms at the High School Level

Images of Mathematicians on Postage Stamps

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zaytuun, on November 15, 2008 at 6:05 pm said:thanx for the info

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Sarah, on November 16, 2008 at 10:00 am said:Ooooh. Thanks for sharing. I have a couple of students who are curious about how geometry terms are related to other English words, and googling each word can take a long time.

jd2718, on November 23, 2008 at 2:45 pm said:How about “parallel”?

(I found all my other favorites, Natural Number, Trapezoid, External Angle,and so on)

Is a line parallel to itself? Depends, right?

Jason Dyer, on November 23, 2008 at 2:53 pm said:I’m inclined to say not, partly because a statement like “in spherical geometry, no lines are parallel” requires a clumsy rephrasing, and partly because I can’t think of a situation where you’d want to include coinciding lines in the definition. At least with the isosceles / equilateral ambiguity saying “angles opposite the congruent sides of an isosceles triangle are equal” rightfully includes equilateral triangles.

jd2718, on November 23, 2008 at 7:24 pm said:For “is parallel to” to function as an equivalence relation, a line must be parallel to itself. I have as of yet not met a high school text that fails to reverse itself on that count.

Jonathan

Jason Dyer, on November 24, 2008 at 8:20 am said:I’ll buy that. You might want to email Jeff about this so he can add it to the list. (His last update on a different connected site was this month, so he’s still around.)

Anonymous, on June 16, 2016 at 5:07 pm said:I need a post about “the earliest uses of mathematical symbols”..