The Degree Symbol
Date: 11/02/98 at 21:41:55 From: Austin M. Subject: Degrees Dear Dr. Math, Today in my 8th grade math class, our teacher asked what the degree symbol stood for and what it meant. You know, the little circle after a measurement. If you have any infomation on this, or an answer, please e-mail me when you get a chance. Thanks, Austin
Date: 11/03/98 at 12:57:25 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: Degrees Hi, Austin. I just learned something I never knew before! On this page maintained by Jeff Miller, on the Earliest Uses of Symbols from Geometry: http://jeff560.tripod.com/geometry.html it says, quoting A History of Mathematical Notations, by Florian Cajori: o This is the first modern appearance that I have found of [degree symbol] for integra or "degrees." It is explained that the denomination of the product of two such denominate numbers is obtained by combining the denominations of the factors; minutes times seconds give thirds, because 1+2=3. The denomination [degree symbol] for integers or degrees is necessary to impart generality to this mode or procedure. "Integers when multiplied by seconds make seconds, when multiplied by thirds make thirds" (fol. 62, 76). It is possible that Peletier is the originator of the [degree symbol] for degrees. But nowhere in this book have I been able to find the modern angular notation [degree symbol] ' " used in writing angles. The [degree symbol] is used only in multiplication. What this says, in modern mathematical terms, is that the symbols [degree symbol] ' " worked like exponents of 1/60: o a b' c" = a * (1/60)^0 + b * (1/60)^1 + c * (1/60)^2 and the circle for degrees was essentially a zero exponent. Fascinating! - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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