From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
An obelus (symbol: ÷, plural: obeli) is a symbol consisting of a short horizontal line with a dot above and below. It is mainly used to represent the mathematical operation of division. It is therefore commonly called the division sign.
HistoryFor more details on this topic, see Obelism.
The word "obelus" comes from ὀβελός, the Ancient Greek word for a sharpened stick, spit, or pointed pillar. This is the same root as that of the word "obelisk". Originally this sign (or a plain line) was used in ancient manuscripts to mark passages that were suspected of being corrupted or spurious. Thedagger symbol, also called an obelisk, is derived from the obelus and continues to be used for this purpose.
The obelus, invented by Aristarchus to mark suspected passages in Homer, is frequent in manuscripts of the Gospel to mark just those sections, like the Pericope in John, which modern editors reject. The first corrector of א, probably the contemporary διορθωτής (copy-editor, rectifier, proofreader), was at pains to enclose in brackets and mark with dots for deletion two famous passages in Luke written by the original scribe which, being absent from B W 579 and the Egyptian versions, we infer were not accepted in the text at that time dominant in Alexandria, viz. the incident of the "Bloody Sweat" in Gethsemane (Lk.xxi.43 f.) and the saying "Father forgive them" (Lk.xi.34).
Although previously used for subtraction, the obelus was first used as a symbol for division in 1659 in the algebra book Teutsche Algebra by Johann Rahn. Some think that John Pell, who edited the book, may have been responsible for this use of the symbol. The usage of the obelus to represent subtraction continued in some parts of Europe (including Norway and, until fairly recently, Denmark).Plus – and minuses. The obelus — or division sign — used as a variant of the minus sign in an excerpt from an official Norwegian trading statement form called "Næringsoppgave 1" for the taxation year 2010.
In computer systems
On UNIX-based systems using Screen or X with a Compose key enabled, it can be produced by composing : (colon) and - (minus), though this is locale- and setting-dependent. It may also be input by Unicode code-point on GTK-based applications by pressing Control + Shift + U, followed by the codepoint in hexadecimal (F7) and terminated by return.
In LaTeX, the obelus is obtained by \div.