I have some code containing "derivations" which are values that update automatically when any of the values it uses are updated. They are derived from these sub-values, but I don't know what to call them.

I could have sworn there was a math term for it, but I can't seem to find it.

As an example of the term, I've tried searching "derivee" and "derivation source," and checked the thesaurus for "derive."

Is there a single word for the values from which another value is derived?

Also, these aren't arguments for a function, but more like a column in a spreadsheet which some other column is dependent on.

  • 2
    If the values are automatically updated, I'd say they're live (feasibly, hot). Programmers have a related concept called volatile variables (which can be modified by processes other than the main execution thread of a program). Jun 11, 2019 at 14:59
  • I would have thought they were "dependent variables" (which change based on one or more independent variables) but I'm not certain enough of math terminology to make that an answer. Jun 11, 2019 at 15:06
  • 2
    Your term source works well here. The derived values were based on (those of) the source.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 11, 2019 at 15:07
  • Have you tried putting this question on mathematics?
    – Tuffy
    Jun 11, 2019 at 15:30
  • I had definitely thought source multiple times, but it's rather ambiguous. Another word that seems related (and under the umbrella of source) is a "clue," though that doesn't work in the math world at all. Still, the notion that ideas are the byproduct of clues, is similar to derivations are the byproduct of...
    – Seph Reed
    Jun 11, 2019 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


I'm pretty sure I've heard the simple term 'precursor' used in a mathematical sense.

precursor n.

  1. [A person, situation etc – licensed by the example] that precedes and indicates, suggests, or announces someone or something to come


The 'source giving rise to a related entity' implication is certainly present in the chemical usage:

precursor 3. (Chemistry)

a chemical substance that gives rise to another ... substance


and in the biology usage:

precursor 4

a cell or tissue that gives rise to a variant ... form.

[RHK Webster's]

  • "derivations are the byproduct of precursors" and "derive the precursors into a derivation" both seem to function pretty well as statements.
    – Seph Reed
    Jun 11, 2019 at 17:25

How about independent variable?

Independent variables are the variables that the experimenter changes to test their dependent variable. A change in the independent variable directly causes a change in the dependent variable


  • While this would be nice for a more front-of-the-function perspective, it doesn't work as well for back-of-the-function thinking. From the back side, the function can't be reached, and the variables aren't manipulable, they're just part of the cause.
    – Seph Reed
    Jun 11, 2019 at 17:23

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