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Re: HowTo: Lookup Special Character names

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg95438] Re: HowTo: Lookup Special Character names
  • From: "Scot T. Martin" <smartin at>
  • Date: Sun, 18 Jan 2009 05:34:08 -0500 (EST)
  • References: <gkppnv$dkn$> <>

At the risk of being perceived as a philosophical apologist (!), I will 
share with you my thinking on these topics, i.e., Mathematica's ballooning 
command set. (The syntax has not changed much since the earliest 

First, I think it's important to realize that there is a beautiful unified 
structure to everything, so that one can remain "pure" and just use this 
structure. This approach avoids having to learn to much syntax. For 
example, in place of:

x^2 /. x -> 5

One can use:


(which can be obtained from Hold[x^2 /. x -> 5] // FullForm)

Now, what's my point here? For the 95% of the program that one uses 
rarely, just stay in the "full syntax" to keep your mind straight. 
However, for the 5% of the program that one uses a lot, you can pull out 
of the box all of the Prefix, Infix, Postfix, etc., operators (@, @@, @@@, 
/@, &, //, ~, ...) that are useful to your personal purpose for using 
Mathematica. These syntax shortcuts can save you a lot of time.

I also have a second point. Many of the new commands are really just 
shortcuts. If you find yourself using Total[] a lot, then it's a good 
command to know. But if you didn't know that command, you'd just go back 
to the stanby of Plus@@{1,2,3}. Many of the new commands are mostly useful 
to a small set of specialized users, IMHO, and there are a few new 
commands that are useful for my specialized applications, and I really 
appreciate them. In particular, all of the arcane formats in Import[] are 
really great for me because I use a lot of scientific and technical 
formats. The Dynamic[] command with the user interface elements was also a 
big boon for me.

Now, there is the question of, "What about the new Mathematica user?" How 
should this person know about the "basic" commands without being 
overwhelmed with everything? In that regard, Wolfram might add another tab 
to its multidimensional Help screen, entitled something along the lines 
of, "Solid Basics in Mathematica."

On Sat, 17 Jan 2009, AES wrote:

> In article <gkppnv$dkn$1 at>, "Q.E.D." <aoe at>
> wrote:
>> Entering ?\[P*] gives a formated reference list of
>> all Special Character names such as \[Pi] which match.
>> ?\[*Phi] matches \[CapitalPhi], \[CurlyPhi] and \[Phi].
>>  ---- MUCH snipped ----
>> x \[Equivalent] y is by default interpreted as Equivalent[x,y].
>> x \[Xnor] y is by default interpreted as Xnor[x,y].
>> x \[Function] y is by default interpreted as Function[x,y].
>> Q.E.D.
> Dear Q.E.D.,
> I'm dazzled -- but also dismayed -- by your knowledge on these matters.
> I saw a note the other day that the average reasonably well educated
> English speaker has a total vocabulary in the range of 20,000 words, or
> perhaps somewhat larger.  Mathematica at this point seems well on the
> way to having a comparable number of commands, symbols, notations,
> operators, options, special characters, and so on in its own vocabulary.
> Ordinary users of Mathematica may have to give up all the other activities in
> their life, aside from eating and sleeping, just to learn Mathematica.
> Would you be up for preparing a similar HowTo: post on how to obtain a
> complete list (hopefully _with definitions_ and in printable form), for
> _all_ of the non-alphabetic operators and programming "thingies"
> (whatever they're called technically) like
>   \., \\., ->, &, @, \@, &&, &&&, etc, etc, etc
> that can appear in Mathematica Input cell commands?  It would be very
> useful.
>   --AES
> [And, is "HowTo" itself now a Mathematica command or symbol?]

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