X - Metalinguistic Usage

Metalinguistic Usage

In mathematics, x is commonly used as the name for an independent variable or unknown value. While it is widely believed that the usage of x to represent an independent or unknown variable can be traced back to the Arabic word šay' شيء = “thing”, there are no sources to support this claim. Modern tradition of using x to represent unknowns was started by Rene Descartes in his La geometrie (1637).

It may also be used to signify the multiplication operation when a more appropriate glyph is unavailable. In mathematics, an "italicized x" is often used to avoid potential confusion with the multiplication symbol.

Other non-mathematical uses include:

  • As a result of its use in algebra, X is often used to represent unknowns in other circumstances (e.g. Person X, Place X, etc.; see also Malcolm X).
  • X-rays are so called because their discoverer did not know what they were.
  • X has been used as a namesake for a generation of humans: Generation X, commonly abbreviated to Gen X. It is the generation born after the baby boom ended, ranging from 1961 to 1981.
  • X is also used for referring to 'the end of conversation'.
  • X is used by the illiterate in lieu of a signature and indicates a signature line on forms.
  • In cartoons, a dead character's eyes are often drawn as Xs.
  • X is commonly used as a generic mark (selecting an item on a form, indicating a location on a map, etc.).
  • A typographic approximation of the multiplication sign × (especially, lowercase Roman "x"). Note that in any font the glyph of "x" is not exactly the same as one of the multiplication sign.

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Famous quotes containing the word usage:

    Pythagoras, Locke, Socrates—but pages
    Might be filled up, as vainly as before,
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    Who in his life-time, each was deemed a bore!
    The loftiest minds outrun their tardy ages.
    George Gordon Noel Byron (1788–1824)