A claim is going around cyberspace to the effect that the number symbols the world uses today were cleverly created by Arabs
who based them on the number of included angles. I saw this three or four years ago in a simpler form; now it’s going
around again by email as a PowerPoint attachment. The claim is bogus. Here are the facts:
- What we call Arabic numerals were invented in India in the early centuries of the Common Era. They
were adopted in Persia in the 9th century and spread thence across North Africa. The Arabs referred
to them as Hindu numbers and in some places still do.
- The Hindu/Indian invention used positions for the number of ones, tens, hundreds, etc, just like
today, and also added the zero, two very powerful and brilliant concepts.
- The new idea arrived in Moorish Spain in the Middle Ages from North Africa via Berber traders;
thus, the Europeans called them “Arabic” numerals.
- The characters themselves changed and evolved over the centuries. The symbols for one, two and
three were entirely different at first, consisting of that number of horizontal bars. The eight is the
least-changed symbol. The eight has never been written with angles, nor were most of the other
numbers at any stage of their history.
- The current forms were settled upon in Europe after several hundred years of changes. The next
photo shows the evolution. See also Wikipedia: "Hindu-Arabic numeral system" for more details.
The PowerPoint document is a clever but forced construction. Given the fairly ragged English, it could be speculated that
someone is attempting to create a modern myth by capitalizing on Europe’s mis-labeling of Hindu numbers. It's a hoax, but
a fun and interesting one. Snopes.com has not dealt with this one yet, so I'm exposing it here.