Origin of arabic numbers?

A friend just emailed me this:


Which tripped my bullshitemeter and sent me googling for truth. I found this:


Wiki didn’t break the tie, so I come to ask. Is there any truth to either?

The positional system of numerals was first invented in India. This Wikipedia link shows the form which spread to the rest of the world via the Arabs. Nothing like the angular variants in your first link (your second doesn’t work for me)

Here is a link to a site charting the development of Indian numerals. Again, no angles

Your meter tripped correctly. The earliest versions of Arabic numerals are the ones Aspidistra linked to.*

As you’ll see, angles have nothing to do with the symbols, although 1, 2 and 3 were represented by simple slashes, with the number of slashes corresponding to the number itself.

Fun factoid: What we call Arabic numerals in English are called Hindu numerals in Arabic- which is more accurate, really. Second fun factoid: actual Arabic numerals (ie., our numbers rendered in Arabic script) look like this:

Zero is represented by a dot.

*They’re not the earliest versions. They’re just the earliest versions whose provenance is known. There are earlier symbols for the numbers 1-9, in India and elsewhere, but our current symbols can only be traced to the Brahmi system.

Just reply with a rolleye smiley.


Now that I look at the second link, it’s even weirder than the first. It contains roughly a 50-50 combination of fact and stuff the author made up. The first link isn’t weird; it’s all stuff the author made up.

not to mention no one writes their ‘7’ with a line through the center… well, no one other than me, anyway, and my students all throw shit fits when I do it :smiley:

I do, too. Think it’s a Jewish thing?

No one but you… and me. :wink: ETA: and susan. (I do it and I am not Jewish)

The crossed “7” is foreign to Japanese people and those of us who like to cross our 7s are generally advised to avoid it here, especially on applications and other important documents, where it may be misinterpreted as a 9. (Or so one of my university professors warned me, at least)

I always thought the crossed seven was a British thing? My dad does it.

However, really nobody puts a line across the bottom as well.

Most of my (British) teachers did it.

Many Europeans draw a 1 with two stroke, a short upwards stroke and a long downwards stroke. The result is that it looks an awful lot like a 7, and the cross is intended to delineate them. From what I’ve seen, it’s extremely common in Europe. I write a 7 the proper American way (no cross) and in 2007, my students in BG asked me more than once why I had written the date on the board as 2001.

Putting a stroke through my 7s became a hard habit with me from my German classes. Still do it. But my 1s are simply a single vertical line.

There’s also the matter of the Europeans switching commas and periods. 1.000,35 instead of 1,000.35. This confused the hell out of the wife the first time she saw it.

The first link is amusing, but not internally consistent. All numerals are “blocky” except zero which conveniently employs curves to avoid any angles. The seven picks up 2 extra angles at its base (constrast that with four) and the nine has an extra bit on its tail.

Yeah, the line at the bottom of the 7 was my first reason to be suspicious. The square curlicue on the 9 was just too much. The round 0 in a square set of numbers? please.

The Indian numerals in Aspidistra’s links make a ton more sense. Thanks. Off to fight ignorance now.

B.S. it may be, but the “number of angles” theory isn’t new. I remember seeing that in my sixth grade math text circa 1983.

I, too am a 7 slasher.

Wouldn’t it be a “1” that has the line at the bottom that they claim the 7 has?

I used to make my ones with a slash on the bottom, but somewhere along the way I started to make my ones just like the ones on this font, like this: 1

(Although, when you’re typing in the reply box, the ones have the slash on the bottom)

The way I write my ones now, if I don’t slash my 7s, the 7s may easily be mistaken for 1s.

What I’ve read recently in some books (can’t recall titles) is that the lower digits originally equated number of strokes with the value. 1 is one stroke, 2 is two horizontal strokes with a crossing stroke added later a la cursive, 3 is three horizontal strokes also blended together.

7 slashers of the world, unite!

I picked it up in Europe, and my students get used to it very quickly.