Definition:Element/Historical Note

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Historical Note on Element

The symbol for is an element of originated as $\varepsilon$, first used by Giuseppe Peano in his Arithmetices prinicipia nova methodo exposita of $1889$. It comes from the first letter of the Greek word meaning is.

The stylized version $\in$ was first used by Bertrand Russell in Principles of Mathematics in $1903$.

See Earliest Uses of Symbols of Set Theory and Logic in Jeff Miller's website Earliest Uses of Various Mathematical Symbols.


$x \mathop \varepsilon S$ could still be seen in works as late as 1951: Nathan Jacobson: Lectures in Abstract Algebra: I. Basic Concepts and 1955: John L. Kelley: General Topology.

Paul Halmos wrote in Naive Set Theory in $1960$ that:

This version [$\epsilon$] of the Greek letter epsilon is so often used to denote belonging that its use to denote anything else is almost prohibited. Most authors relegate $\epsilon$ to its set-theoretic use forever and use $\varepsilon$ when they need the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet.

However, since then the symbol $\in$ has been developed in such a style as to be easily distinguishable from $\epsilon$, and by the end of the $1960$s the contemporary notation was practically universal.


Sources