Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 11:16:39 -0600 (CST) To: QandQ@MathCentral.uregina.ca Subject: Log Name: benny
Who is asking: Student
Question: Hi Benny,
John Napier (1550-1617) of Scotland invented logarithms ("logs" for short) and coined the name. The name comes from Greek words that mean roughly "ratio number." Apparently he first wanted to call his invention "artificial numbers", but he changed his mind, feeling that "ratio number" describes the way he computed them for his log tables of 1614. They SHOULD have been called "exponents" since that's what they are for us, but the notion of an exponent was not to be invented (by Descartes) until later that century. We are consequently stuck with a name that no longer has any meaning for us.
Logs were invented to make calculations easier -- in fact, they were among the necessary ingredients for the scientific revolution that took place in that same century. Until the arrival of cheap calculators some 20 years ago, logs continued to be extremely useful for calculations, and were the only way to compute large powers of large numbers -- try computing 123^4571 by hand without using logarithms.
Cheers
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