Interesting Esoterica

Two notes on notation

Article by Donald E. Knuth
  • Published in 1992
  • Added on
In the collection
The author advocates two specific mathematical notations from his popular course and joint textbook, "Concrete Mathematics". The first of these, extending an idea of Iverson, is the notation "[P]" for the function which is 1 when the Boolean condition P is true and 0 otherwise. This notation can encourage and clarify the use of characteristic functions and Kronecker deltas in sums and integrals. The second notation puts Stirling numbers on the same footing as binomial coefficients. Since binomial coefficients are written on two lines in parentheses and read "n choose k", Stirling numbers of the first kind should be written on two lines in brackets and read "n cycle k", while Stirling numbers of the second kind should be written in braces and read "n subset k". (I might say "n partition k".) The written form was first suggested by Imanuel Marx. The virtues of this notation are that Stirling partition numbers frequently appear in combinatorics, and that it more clearly presents functional relations similar to those satisfied by binomial coefficients.

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BibTeX entry

@article{TwoNotesOnNotation,
	title = {Two notes on notation},
	abstract = {The author advocates two specific mathematical notations from his popular
course and joint textbook, "Concrete Mathematics". The first of these,
extending an idea of Iverson, is the notation "[P]" for the function which is 1
when the Boolean condition P is true and 0 otherwise. This notation can
encourage and clarify the use of characteristic functions and Kronecker deltas
in sums and integrals.
  The second notation puts Stirling numbers on the same footing as binomial
coefficients. Since binomial coefficients are written on two lines in
parentheses and read "n choose k", Stirling numbers of the first kind should be
written on two lines in brackets and read "n cycle k", while Stirling numbers
of the second kind should be written in braces and read "n subset k". (I might
say "n partition k".) The written form was first suggested by Imanuel Marx. The
virtues of this notation are that Stirling partition numbers frequently appear
in combinatorics, and that it more clearly presents functional relations
similar to those satisfied by binomial coefficients.},
	url = {http://arxiv.org/abs/math/9205211v1 http://arxiv.org/pdf/math/9205211v1},
	author = {Donald E. Knuth},
	comment = {},
	urldate = {2016-05-19},
	archivePrefix = {arXiv},
	eprint = {math/9205211},
	primaryClass = {math.HO},
	collections = {Notation and conventions},
	year = 1992
}