There are a number of words used very frequently to describe properties of a confusion matrix (or contingency table).

Among them there is the word 'recall', this is to describe:


which means, the rate of your predicted positive instance out of the real true instance number (the true positives plus false negatives).

But this was given the name recall, which has confused me a lot.

After some digging within Cambridge Dictionary, I found that 'recall' sounds to me like you have your memory back and then you think of something you might have forgotten. Another is to describe how you want something you already sent out back.

So why can recall the word be used to describe the confusion matrix rate? When (and by who) was the first use of 'recall' in this way?

  • 1
    Hello, cinqS. Please include the research you’ve done, such as looking up 'recall' in the dictionary to see if there are alternative meanings. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. Until reasonable research is submitted, this seems a reasonable assumption for users to make. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 12:06
  • @EdwinAshworth, Hi, yes, I did search some pages, and already updated the question I made. thanks for your notice.
    – cinqS
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 12:21
  • 1
    This site has not implemented MathJax. Please do your best with ordinary Markdown. However, I suspect that this might be a better fit on Statistics (Cross Validated) or maybe even History of Science and Mathematics.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 13:19
  • It's idiosyncratic to the context of classifiers, referring to the completeness of results given. Think of it as something like sending out the test cases and retrieving or recalling a certain percentage. You'd be better off putting this in a stats board though, because it's more about a context sensitive analogy, and somewhere that can do a much better job. Also see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precision_and_recall.
    – jimm101
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 12:16
  • This would be a good general etymology question, who first started using 'recall' in this way (likewise for all the other terms, sensitivity, specificity, precision, etc etc, because none of their everyday meanings are obviously connected with their mathematical meanings. But yeah probably more likely to get info from someone on Cross Validated or HSM as @AndrewLeach mentions, people who are knowledgable about the history of those areas.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 15:26

2 Answers 2


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precision_and_recall has

Suppose a computer program for recognizing dogs in photographs identifies 8 dogs in a picture containing 12 dogs and some cats. Of the 8 identified as dogs, 5 actually are dogs (true positives), while the rest are cats (false positives). The program's precision is 5/8 while its recall is 5/12.

In this case "to recall" has the meaning of "to return to the originator; to order/command the return of someone or something" as in "In January, he was appointed Ambassador to Ruritania, but was recalled in March."


2. a. transitive. To call back or summon (a person, or figurative a thing) to return to or from a place; to restore (a person) to a former position or occupation, membership of a team, etc.

1961 D. Heller & D. Heller Kennedy Cabinet iv. 69 Impressed by Dillon's skill and breadth of economic experience, Secretary Dulles recalled him to Washington.

2003 Bang Apr. 38/1 In time, the mysterious Frankie Poullain was recalled from Venezuela to add the bass.

b. transitive. Without reference to physical location: to bring back (a thing or person) by or as by a call.

1854 Capt. Rafter tr. A. de Lamartine Hist. Restoration Monarchy in France (new ed.) IV. xli. 134 He burned with impatience to return to the great political stage, and to recall absent attention to himself once more, by going back to France.

2000 G. Cook Soldiers Live 1 We were supernatural, many recalled from the dead, the ultimate Stone Soldiers.


Wikipedia on Recall and Precision clearly tells us what these terms mean. Recall is the proportion of relevant items retrieved among those that should have actually been retrieved. hence recall.

  • The OP has already linked to the Wikipedia definition for Precision and Recall. Could you help him or her by comparing and contrasting recall with the main dictionary definition?
    – rajah9
    Commented Jul 23, 2020 at 10:54

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