Arabic Notation

The distinguishing feature of the Arabic notation, used  all over the civilized world, is the fixing of values by position. In any integral number the decimal point is assumed to be placed at the right of the number - the right hand digit of the number is taken as being on the left of the omitted decimal point. The digit placed here expresses the number of units in the quantity, after the tens, hundreds and other higher decimals have been taken out. Then the next number to the left gives the tens, the next the hundreds and so on.

All this is simple and elementary. But suppose there were no position system of fixing values; then we would be as badly off as were the old Romans, with their clumsy system of literal notation. To express the number eight hundred and eighty eight, if there were no place or position system, we should have to write, 8 hundreds, 8 tens and 8, instead of simply, 888.

Now compare the number of characters required to write this number in Roman and in Arabic systems. In Roman notation it runs: DCCCLXXXVIII, twelve letters as against the three numerals expressing the same thing in Arabic notation - 888.


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