Φ vs. Ø: Will the real Phi please stand up!
In the texts of ancient Greece, the letter phi looked like this:
When you see the Greek letter Phi on a fraternity or sorority house, it usually looks like this:
When you see Phi on a web site, it often looks like this:
What’s the slant on this?
Is Phi no longer the upright character it once was? Has Phi become an empty shell of its former self? (A little set humor for you mathematicians.) Is Phi leaning to the right in its political orientation? To keep Phi from suffering from an “identity” crisis (a little more math humor), here’s an explanation of what’s going and what you can do to be sure that Phi remains in good standing.
Just like golf, it’s all in the stroke
The simple truth is that the basic Western character set on computers does not include a character for the Greek letter phi. The only basic ASCII character that comes close in appearance to Phi Φ is the letter O with a stroke through it, or Ø. As a result, Ø has been masquerading as Φ since the early days of computer usage.
Type a real Φ on your keyboard with Alt-1000
Now that extended character sets are available on most PC’s and in most browsers, it’s possible once again to let Phi be Phi. All you have to do is hold the Alt key and then enter 1000 on the number pad.
If your PC doesn’t have the necessary character sets installed to do this, you can use Windows’s Character Map program. To open Character Map, click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, point to System Tools, and then click Character Map. Scroll down to find the phi symbol, click on select, then copy and paste it into your application.
Letting Φgønes be Φgønes
And while change is always bound to cause some dispute, in the end it’s better to let Φgønes be Φgønes.
Symbol font and Phi: Alt-618 gives … j, which is phi, 0.618!
On a PC using Symbol font, you can generate a phi symbol in the following ways:
Appropriately enough, a lower case phi, or 0.618, and the reciprocal of Phi, 1.618, can be created with Alt-618: j
Other phi symbols can be created with:
Alt-106 or Alt-618: j
Note: Alt-618 means hold down the Alt key, enter 618 on the numeric pad and then release. This insight was contributed by W. Nathan Saunders.
Running a character check on Phi
|Letter||Greek Letter Phi||Latin letter O with stroke|
|Case||Upper case||Lower case||Upper case||Lower case|
|Windows character Map||Alt-03A6|
|Type from keyboard with||Alt-1000||Alt-1005||Alt-0216||Alt-0248|
|Times New Roman||Φ||φ||Ø||ø|
This page is dedicated to Katie (a.k.a. Princess Kate), a high school senior who wrote to question the usage of Ø and who inspired me to dig deeper into the reasons that the Φ symbol wasn’t being used much on web sites … until now. (3/15/2003, The “Phides” of March, a date made from the Fibonacci series numbers of 0, 1, 2, 3 and 5)