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Origin of the Null Symbol

Date: 03/05/2003 at 21:36:24
From: Jeff MacLemore
Subject: What is The Origin of the Null Symbol

Where did the null symbol come from? Is the zero with a slash through 
it a letter from another language? In short, does it relate to 
another distant culture in any way? Pi, for example ties in with the 
Greeks. Does null have the same kind of relation?

Date: 03/05/2003 at 22:49:41
From: Doctor Peterson
Subject: Re: What is The Origin of the Null Symbol

Hi, Jeff.

Our FAQ has a link to Jeff Miller's site on the history of symbols:

   Earliest uses of mathematical symbols 

Under Set Theory, you will find this:

  The null set symbol (Ř). André Weil (1906-1998) says in his
  autobiography that he introduced the symbol: 

  Wisely, we had decided to publish an installment establishing the
  system of notation for set theory, rather than wait for the
  detailed treatment that was to follow: it was high time to fix
  these notations once and for all, and indeed the ones we proposed,
  which introduced a number of modifications to the notations
  previously in use, met with general approval. Much later, my own
  part in these discussions earned me the respect of my daughter
  Nicolette, when she learned the symbol Ř for the empty set at
  school and I told her that I had been personally responsible for
  its adoption. The symbol came from the Norwegian alphabet, with
  which I alone among the Bourbaki group was familiar.

  The citation above is from page 114 of André Weil's _The
  Apprenticeship of a Mathematician_, Birkhaeuser Verlag,
  Basel-Boston-Berlin, 1992. Translated from the French by Jennifer
  Gage. The citation was provided by Julio González Cabillón.

  This letter is used in the Norwegian, Danish and Faroese alphabets. 

- Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum 
Associated Topics:
Elementary Definitions
High School Definitions
High School Sets
Middle School Definitions

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