Math Basics

Basic Mathematical Operations

Where did the symbols for multiplication originate?

The 17th century seems to have been the century when the basic mathematical symbols were developed. The best reasons for the development of such symbols make sense: they were faster and easier to write, took up less written space, and helped the printing process. Although the use of these symbols would eventually be standard—so everyone would understand the meaning of certain mathematical operations—it took a while for this to happen.

For example, in 1686, German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) was using the symbol ∩ for multiplication and ∪ for division. Eventually, English mathematician and scientist Thomas Harriot (also seen as Hariot; 1560-1621) used the dot to indicate multiplication in his treatise Artis anayticae praxis, published posthumously in 1631. (He also developed the greater than [>] and less than [<] symbols).="" that="" same="" year,="" english="" mathematician="" william="" oughtred="" (1575–1660)="" used="" the="" symbol="" “x”="" for="" multiplication="" in="" his="" book,="">Clavis mathematicae, in which he was also the first to mention the plus-minus symbol (±).

Today, we use a number of symbols for multiplication operations. The most common symbols are ×, *, ., and ( ), as in 2 × 3, 2*3, 2 . 3, and (2)(3).


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