This is prompted by

which asks why s is used as the letter for position. Here are some more examples.

(Feel free to edit in more examples. Posts not prone to the auto-deletion script are preferred.)

Are these questions on topic? They're not really about physical concepts, but they are about matters that are fairly specific to physics.

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  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I would have said we 'migrate' to chat. But iirc not everyone has chat privileges. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2012 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, you need 20 rep to chat. $\endgroup$
    – David Z
    Mar 2, 2012 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure if this is enough for an answer, but hsm takes questions on the historic motivation(s) behind notation, which would include some of the questions here. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Aug 3, 2015 at 19:46

3 Answers 3


It depends on the question. As a rule of thumb, e.g.,

  1. a question of the form What does this notation/terminology mean? is on-topic if it cannot immediately be answered by a simple Google search/Wikipedia lookup.

  2. a question of the form What is the standard notation for this quantity? or Why do we use this notation? is off-topic/not constructive/primarily opinion-based, and should go to chat instead.

  3. a question of the form What is the historic origin/motivation of this notation/terminology? should go to History of Science and Mathematics instead.

NB: If the site gets swamped by linguistic/notational/terminology soft-questions instead of conceptional physics questions, we might want to rethink this policy.


It should simply be considered on topic. Notation questions are useful and occasionally interesting, and I see no tangible benefit in not having them on the site. (Unless of course they have other problems, such as being too broad, unclear etc.)


Ideally, they should go to chat.

Since chat requires 20 rep, then I think that they should be allowed. math.SE seems to be fine with them (judging by a question about the various dels I asked there).

We shouldn't waste too much time answering them (hypocrisy on my part; I did a bit of Googling to get some details on the question you mentioned). If you know the answer, answer it. If you don't, don't research it yourself.

After all, physics.SE is, among other things, a way to connect with people in sync with the physics world. If you don't have a friendly neighborhood physicist, this place is great for finding answers to little stuff that only these people know. I doubt anyone I know would have known that distance comes from strecke.


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