A Polish-Irish
connection We Irish have something in common with the Polish: we've been the butt of "stupid" jokes on and off for a long time. The Polish jokes originated in the United States at a time when Polish immigration was heavy; the Irish jokes took off when the Northern Ireland "troubles" worsened. In each case the jokes were a reaction to tension. Unfair! Unfair! Anyway, enough of this whinge. What about reverse Polish notation? That was the subject of a query from Tom Barnhart "Early calculators didn't use 'algebraic logic'," Tom wrote. "Instead they used what was called RPN or 'Reverse Polish Notation'. Where did this phrase come from?" Polish notation is a way of expressing mathematical formulae without using brackets, which puts operators and operands in a certain order. This was a real breakthrough for mathematics, because it allowed complex formulae to be expressed in a way that resembled ordinary language. The order was all important because as long as that was fixed the mathematical "syntax" would take care of itself. The principle has uses in logic as well as in linguistics, would you believe. However when computers came along it was for some reason found useful to reverse the order in which the parts of the formulae were expressed (don't ask me why; I'm neither a mathematician nor a computer engineer). Thus reverse Polish notation. The system still worked because the order, although reversed, was fixed. The original notation was developed by one Jan Lukasiewicz, who was born in 1878 in what is now the Ukraine. Lukasiewicz was Polish Education Minister in 1919, a professor at Warsaw University from 1920 to 1939, and a master of logic as well as mathematics. I don't know whether Lukasiewicz named his notation, or whether it was named by others, and since the name Lukasiewicz doesn't spring from the pages of my encyclopaedia I don't know whether he was of Polish ethnic stock, or even if he considered himself to be Polish. But we'll consider him Polish, because to confirm the link between the Poles and the Irish, Lukasiewicz migrated to Ireland in 1946 after a very rough time during World War II. He died in Dublin in 1956. This information, and the picture, comes to you courtesy of the web site http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/ Word for Word articles BrisMail Home |