# Confusion created by notation in E&M

## Main Question or Discussion Point

I just started an E&M class and right from the beginning the notation seems so confusing it has to have been done as a joke.
Trying to do a problem I run into about 10 different r's I have to keep track of.
Capital R
Lower case r
Lower case r prime
The r in spherical coordinates
The "squiggle" r (As this professor calls it. Never heard that before this class, but he talked about it like everyone knows. It's just a cursive r from what I can tell.)
"Squiggle" r hat
Normal r hat prime
"Squiggle" r with an arrow over it.
The normal r with an arrow over it
Normal r with an arrow over it prime

So when I see an equation with 3 or 4 different r's in it, my head just explodes. Why is it like this? And am I the only one who thinks this makes it confusing?

## Answers and Replies

Related Classical Physics News on Phys.org
This is what happens when you restrict yourself to the latin Alphabet. Try using Greek and Cyrillic letters if you run out.

There is a weird fascination with symmetry and making letters look the same. Euler angles were introduced to me with $$\xi, \zeta, \eta$$ as indices. Integration by parts uses u and v, there is p and q for Lagrange mechanics. i and j for electrodynamics. {j,k,l} and {x,y,z} might not be so bad, but j and l are close in some handwriting as well as x and y. These things will never be reformed because we are still citing papers from 1910. The worst we had was in the discussion of collisions where I think r-prime-prime-tilda-hat was the vector of the second particle after the collision in center of mass coordinates.

I find it works extremely well when dealing with an unfamiliar notion to relabel each variable to something that makes sense to you, like $m_{electron}$ instead of $Z_0$ for example. Then rewrite all of the equations and work with them until you feel comfortable and translate back as required.