[FOM] "Literal"

Chris Gray cpgray at library.uwaterloo.ca
Thu Sep 7 14:34:31 EDT 2006

On Wed, 6 Sep 2006, Charles Silver wrote:

> 	Can anyone tell me who first defined the term "literal" for a
> sentence in propositional logic that's either an atomic sentence or
> the negation of one?   The earliest occurrence of the word used this
> way that I've found is in Quine, 1959: "A way to simplify truth
> functions".   I think it's an unfortunate name for this kind of
> sentence and would welcome a better one, especially if it precede
> Quine's.

I think the horse is out of the barn.  The term is now established in the 
literature (150,000 hits on Google for '"normal form" literal'). 
Enderton and Mendelson use it.  Your efforts are likely to be as well 
rewarded as Quine's have been to get us to use "alternation" and 
"singulary" for "disjunction" and "unary".  (Even Quine has been more 
successful providing terms where there were none than changing ones 
already in use.)

The article you refer to was published in 1955 in the American 
Mathematical Monthly.  Quine used the term earlier:

The Problem of Simplifying Truth Functions
The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 59, No. 8. (Oct., 1952), pp. 

Before this I didn't find evidence of any term for "literal", only 
cicumlocutions like Hilbert and Ackermann's "negated or un-negated 
elementary sentence".

Chris Gray

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