History of the Fraction Bar
Date: 09/01/2005 at 14:39:44 From: Don Subject: The Fraction Bar in Fractions What is the original name of the fraction bar? I know it is called the vinculum, but was that the original name? If not, what was it originally called?
Date: 09/01/2005 at 19:43:34 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: The Fraction Bar in Fractions Hi, Don. In what language? I believe it was first used by Arabs, and I might be able to research the Arabic term they would have used, but I'd need to know that's what you want! See this page for the history: http://jeff560.tripod.com/fractions.html If you have any further questions, feel free to write back. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
Date: 09/01/2005 at 20:05:08 From: Don Subject: The Fraction Bar in Fractions I do not know the language, my professor just asked me to research the original name of the fraction bar whatever it may be. So I'm not sure what language he is talking about. Was there a common name for the "fraction bar" at any time?
Date: 09/01/2005 at 23:06:12 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: The Fraction Bar in Fractions Hi, Don. So the question is not clearly stated in the first place. That's typical of real life; often when you have a good question, you have to decide in the course of your research how to interpret the question. Do we need to find what it was first called by whoever invented it, whatever language they spoke, or is it more important to find what it was first called in English? That's apparently up to you to decide, based on what you learn about the origin of the symbol. My best source (which is also a major source of the site I referred you to) is Cajori's History of Mathematical Notations, which you may be able to find. He gives the history of notations for fractions, but I don't see any footnotes (which he often gives when it is interesting) about what the symbol was called by its early users. He himself just calls it "the fractional line" or "the horizontal bar". He shows various Hindu writers who wrote fractions without the bar at all, and identifies al-Hassar, a twelfth century Arab, as using the line, followed by Leonardo of Pisa (Fibonacci). What did they call it? al-Hassar says Write the denominator below a [horizontal] line and over each of them the parts belonging to it; for example, if you are told to write three-fifths and a third of a fifth, write thus, 3 1 ---- 5 3 It's not quite our modern notation, and he just calls it a "line". Cajori then quotes Fibonacci in Latin, where he uses "uirgula"; though Cajori translates that as "line", it means "little rod" or "twig" or "wand" in Latin, and is the source of the modern word "virgule", which means the symbol "/" instead. (Cajori calls that symbol a solidus, which is probably its original name.) So you might be able to say that the original term was "virgule", though that has since changed its meaning, and perhaps was never used this way in English. Cajori says the fractional line came into common use in the sixteenth century, but says very little about that usage and nothing about what it was called--which in my mind probably means it didn't have a special name. (See sections 235, 272.) I find no evidence, by the way, that it has ever properly been called a vinculum, which is a bar OVER an expression and serves to group it as parentheses do today. The fraction bar has something in common with that, but not enough in my opinion to justify the usage. With both vinculum and virgule used for other things, I just call it a fraction bar and am perfectly happy with that term! - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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