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What is the correct term for a collection of mathematical formulas in the form of a (small) handbook? I'm looking for a translation of the German noun “Formelsammlung”.

Several dictionarys suggest the word “formulary”, but the disambiguation page on Wikipedia does not indicate a meaning of this kind. Wiktionary does support this meaning, but only as one among several. It appears that a pharmaceutical meaning is more common than a mathematical one. So I suppose that I should disambiuate the term. But I'm unsure whether to choose “mathematical formulary” or “mathematics formulary”. Or perhaps something completely different, like “mathematical handbook”.

Which term is most common or best suited to describe this kind of book?

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    I'd vote for Handbook. CRC is probably the most recognized for handbooks in my field. But interestingly they don't call their "handbook" of mathematics a handbook, they just call it "CRC Standard Mathematical Tables and Formulae"
    – Jim
    Feb 27, 2013 at 17:07
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    @Jim, perhaps you want to make that comment an answer, so that others who agree can vote as well.
    – MvG
    Feb 27, 2013 at 17:10
  • @Jim, mine (27th ed, 1984) is titled simple "CRC Standard Mathematical Tables" Feb 27, 2013 at 18:33
  • Tangentially, in engineering we have databooks, such as Calvert and Farrar's, which actually contain a lot of formulae (as well as data).
    – deadly
    Feb 28, 2013 at 13:42

3 Answers 3

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No matter how you research it, you will find that a frequently used title for a collection of mathematical formulas* includes the word Handbook: e.g., Handbook of Mathematical Formulas or Handbook of Mathematical Functions or something similar.

Pocket Book (or pocketbook) is sometimes used in place of "handbook" to suggest that the material is easy to keep close at hand.

Other words that work are compendium and collection. You will almost never find these in the title of the book, but you will often find it in the description of the book.

A search on Amazon.com (books) for the subject "mathematical formulas" shows that "handbook" is often part of the title, and where it is not, then simply stating something like "Mathematical Formulas" in the title is sufficient. E.g., "CRC Standard Mathematical Tables and Formulae".

*(By the way, and off-topic, "formulae" and "formulas" are used interchangeably.)

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Going by Google Books, it is recognised and acceptable to use formulary to refer to a collection of mathematical formulae. There is also a 1963 book titled, Mathematical Formulary, Including All Formulae Required for Mathematics I and II.

The etymonline entry for formulary notes:

Mathematical use is from 1796; use in chemistry is from c.1846.

So, you are on safe ground etymologically as well.

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  • How well do they sell? I'd go with 'Handbook of Mathematical Formulas'. Feb 27, 2013 at 19:52
  • @EdwinAshworth The formula for that is, presumably, within :) Feb 27, 2013 at 19:54
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    You haven't got one either? Feb 27, 2013 at 19:56
  • @EdwinAshworth haha! That makes three of us :D Feb 27, 2013 at 19:57
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The problem with using formulary for a collection of mathematical formulae is that a formulary already means a bunch of prescriptions, like your health insurance company’s formulary.

Since this is a technical sense, it may be better to return to the original Latin form, which would be a formularium. Of the -arium suffix, the OED writes:

-arium, suffix of sbs. ad. L. -ārium ‘thing connected with or employed in, place for,’ orig. neuter of adjs. in -ārius. Of this the regular adapted form in Eng. is -ary: see -ary1, but the unchanged L. form is used with a few terms of classical and ecclesiastical antiquities, or of learned use, as caldarium, frigidarium, sacrarium, honorarium, herbarium, the last of which, being in general use, has probably popularized the use of vivarium and aquarium.

Other words of that ilk include the easily recognized. . .

  • antiquarium for antiquities
  • cinerarium for ashes (note that cinerary was already taken)
  • formicarium for ants (formicary means the same thing)
  • leprosarium for lepers
  • muscarium for flies
  • ossuarium for bones (ossuary means the same thing)
  • ranarium for frogs
  • rosarium for roses (note that rosary was already taken)
  • sanitarium for health (note that sanitary was already taken)
  • unguentarium for ointment
  • vestiarium for garments (the rare vestiary means the same thing, but so too does vestry)
  • viridarium for greenery

When J. R. R. Tolkien needed a word for the collection of legends he was building up, he chose legendarium. Yes, it is fancier than the normal -ary suffix that would yield legendary, but that word was already taken.

In the same way, since a formulary is already taken, you might choose a formularium instead.

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  • You make a strong point why “formularium” should be a suitable term, but I'm unsure how established it actually is. Would native speakers without a strong linguistic background choose that word as well? More likely than “mathematical formulary” and my other alternatives?
    – MvG
    Feb 27, 2013 at 22:15
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    @MvG You’ll have to ask one of those kinds of people, as I am not one such. :) But for me, a “mathematical formulary” would be something having to do with pharmaceuticals, albeit perhaps numerically, because I am too poisoned with the health-care sense.
    – tchrist
    Feb 27, 2013 at 22:17

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