Arabic Numbers

Are these actually from Arabia?

By Deane Barker

Arabic Numbers are the common, base-10 numeric system most people in the world use: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

They’re not from Arabia specifically, but they were brought to Spain in the 900s by Arabic speakers from North Africa across the Straight of Gibraltar.

Why I Looked It Up

A supposed Twitter poll, meant as satire asked, “Should American schools teach Arabic numbers as part of their curriculum?” Predictably, 57% of respondents answered “No.”

However funny (or exasperating) they are, these results are suspect. The responses (a claimed 2,313) would come mainly from people who followed the pollster, and it would seem that someone who posted this would not likely be followed by most the people who answered it incorrectly. So, there’s a good chance it was fabricated as a meme.

But regardless, the point behind the joke got me wondering why we called them by that name, so I looked it up.


Added on August 12, 2022

A friend posted an image meme to Facebook that said:

[…] the numbers [westerners] use were created by Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi, a Musim Person mathematician. The numbers refer to angles, for example 1 and one angle, while 4 has four, 0 has none and so on.

I was skeptical so I did some research, and this is appears to be a hoax. Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a real person who contributed greatly to algebra (he’s known as “the father of algebra”), astronomy, geography, and other disciplines, but I couldn’t find any reference to the “numbers named after angles” theory, nor to the idea that al-Khawarizmi even created Arabic numbers at all.

(Also, nevermind the fact the the number 7 only has one angle, and the number 8 only has four, etc.)

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