[texhax] help with identifying some macros

Toby Cubitt tsc25 at cantab.net
Sat Oct 17 22:35:55 CEST 2009

On Sat, Oct 17, 2009 at 11:08:48AM +0200, Lars Madsen wrote:
> Using standard LaTeX macro names are not that good as they often
> hide the true meaning of the equation.
> For example in topology \cong often means isomorphy, so
> X \isomorph Y gives much better meaning than X \cong Y

In this instance, sighted people reading the final typeset version are no
better off when it comes to interpreting the maths: they see the visual
output of "\cong" and have to decide from context whether that symbol
means isomorphism, some form of approximate equality, or whatever else it
gets used for.

So if authors consistently defined a separate alias (such as \isomorph,
\approxeq) for each distinct use of the same symbol (\cong), interpreting
the maths would become easier for everyone with access to the LaTeX
source, not just blind people. I seem to recall the amsmath guide
recommends doing just this.

I guess the downside for blind people would be that instead of having to
learn a (relatively) small set of standard symbol names, there would be a
large set of command names to interpret, many of which would produce the
same visual output. It's probably impossible to define standard commands
for every possible distinct use of the same mathematical symbol (research
papers for example very often have to define new notation as needed for
new concepts). So some command names will end up being author-defined,
and there's no guarantee everyone will consistently choose the same name
for the same thing. In the worst case, interpreting a command would
involve finding the macro definition, figuring out what standard command
it produces, and *then* figuring out it's mathematical meaning from the
standard command anyway.

I wonder if we're not better off as we are, with (more or less) a unique
command for each unique symbol.

Dr T. S. Cubitt
Quantum Information Theory group
Department of Mathematics
University of Bristol
United Kingdom

email: tsc25 at cantab.net
web: www.dr-qubit.org

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