# What is the origin of the naming convention for position functions?

In physics, position as a function of time is generally called $$d(t)$$ or $$s(t)$$. Using "$$d$$" is pretty intuitive, however I haven't been able to figure out why "$$s$$" is used as well. Is it possibly based on another language?

• it could be based on the german word 'Strecke', but I don't think this convention is that strict in the first place. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 18:41
• Yes, $s$ stands for the german word Strecke, and $d$ for distance. Commented Feb 23, 2012 at 18:45
• I prefer r(t) for position (i.e., instantaneous displacement from the reference point), to distinguish it from displacement (change in position over a time interval) s(t) and from distance travelled d(t). Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 10:08
• Do we know what is origin of usage of 's' as a "Strecke", i.e. who started using it or when? 100 years ago? 200-300 years ago? 500 years ago? 2000 years ago? Etc. Commented Feb 9, 2023 at 14:18

Note that $$s$$ is for displacement, whereas $$d$$ is for distance. Distance is the distance along the path traveled by a body, whereas displacement is the birds-eye distance traveled. Displacement can also be negative in 1-D, depending upon your reference positive direction.
You might want to check out this paper, it's got an analysis of the naming, mainly for electrodynamic units. A few symbols from the table at the end of the paper: $$c$$ (speed of light) comes from Latin celeritas; $$I$$ (current) comes from "intensity of current" in French (intensite du courant). The $$\mathbf{A}$$-potential, $$\mathbf{B}$$-field, $$\mathbf{H}$$-field got their symbols from the alphabetic order of the others.