Terminator X to the edge of panic


Why does the alphabet’s 24th letter designate the nameless?


It probably starts with the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes, who in his 1637 book “La Géometrie” first systematically used a lower-case “x,” together with “y” and “z,” to signify an unknown quantity in simple algebraic equations. […] We now jump […] from 1637 to 1895, when Wilhelm Röntgen discovered a new type of radiation. Röntgen, who wasn’t sure just what he had come across, named his find in German X-Strahlen, using the algebraic symbol for something unknown. […] “X-ray” has remained our English word and has also contributed, with the help of the term “X-ray vision,” to x’s ability to evoke the uncanny.

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photo { Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin }