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Name: Name
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1993


Question:
A third grade class would like to know the origin of plus and minus.



Replies:
That question calls for an expert on the very early history of mathematics, which I am not. Hopefully, you will get another response in addition to mine, but I will share what little I know. We have some very old records from ancient times of the mathematics done by the Greeks, Hindus, Egyptians, etc. It is clear from this evidence that notation such as + and -, nor the words "plus" or "minus" were not invented until much later (perhaps the middle ages). The ancient Greeks and earlier peoples used words such as "combined with" and "removed from" to talk about adding and subtracting. Problems were not written in symbols, but rather stated in words. The Germans started using the + and -signs about 500 years ago, but others may have used those or similar symbols before that time. The words plus and minus were most likely borrowed from the Latin language. For example, "minus" is similar to part of the word "diminished", and both come from a Latin word meaning "take away part of". The phrase "plus or minus" is very old. We have found old Roman tombstones which read something like "94 years plus or minus" just as we might say "94 years more or less".

Robert Allan Chaffer



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