Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Arabic Numerals
Name: Richard C.
Status: student	
Age:  N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
How did our 'Arabic' numerals evolve? That is, I understand that a 2 was once represented as the horns of an animal and evolved into the 2 we know and love today. A 3 was supposedly three horizontal hash marks that became slurred into our modern day 3. These things I recall from my high school math teacher. I am currently teaching basic and advanced math classes to adults and I thought this bit of trivia might create interest.



Replies:
Rich, I do not know exact results, but I do know why "x" and "y" are the traditional variables of algebra. When algebra was developed, ball-point pens and pencils were not yet developed. Most writing was done with quills dipped in ink wells. Making curved lines required skill and time. The easiest letters to make that could be easily distinguished from numbers were x and y. Both required only two straight strokes. I expect this is similar to why the number symbols developed as they did. Numbers needed to be fairly easy to write AND read at the time they were developed.

Dr. Ken Mellendorf
Physics Instructor
Illinois Central College



Click here to return to the Mathematics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory