The discussion in the comments in two recent AspectRatio threads (1,2) has highlighted one important aspect of our established way of expressing our thoughts about the Mathematica (or Wolfram Language) functions: we tend to use the names of built-in system Symbols instead of the corresponding words of the usual English language. In many cases it allows us to reach wonderful conciseness and exactness of our description at one time. But it also gives a temptation to use names of the Symbols outside of their field of use. A good example is PlotRange option.

The confusion between PlotRange and "plot range" has historical prerequisite: before version 6 there was no PlotRangePadding option and PlotRange was widely used interchangeably with "plot range" because they actually meant the same. Starting from version 6, the situation has changed but in many places in the Documentation we still read statements that were not updated since version 5.

Today PlotRange option along with PlotRangePadding option determines the range of values of coordinates included inside of the Frame of the final graphics (even if it is switched off by Frame->False).

The terms "plot range" and "plot area" were used long time before version 6 came out where the functions PlotRangePadding and ImagePadding were introduced. At that time the confusion between PlotRange, plot range and plot area was not possible because all of them meant the same: the area on the plot where graphical primitives can potentially be displayed. But now a new user of Mathematica faces a problem similar to the chicken and egg problem: the Documentation mixes definitions which are valid for different versions and makes it impossible to formulate in clear words even basic concepts of the language.

For example, what means the term "plot area"? The area where graphical primitives can potentially be displayed? But with PlotRangeClipping->False the graphical primitives which lie in the area determined by ImagePadding option will be shown what is outside of plot range.

It is logical that under PlotRange we should understand only value of this option, not the complete plot range. I feel natural to say that PlotRangePadding increases the plot range but not the value of the PlotRange option which remains the same as can be verified by applying Options[#, PlotRange]&. But I am not sure what currently we should understand under "plot area". What term should I use if I want to say about the full area where graphical primitives can potentially be displayed (which includes both PlotRangePadding and ImagePadding)?

I feel that our language when we speak about Mathematica should be regularized in some way. What do you think about it?

  • 1
    Besides the broader scope of the question here, let me note, that the documentation for AspectRatio says that it determines the height-to-width of the PlotRange, not "plot range", so at the end of the day I agree with you, that the documentation in the strictest sense is not correct.
    – LLlAMnYP
    May 19, 2015 at 10:52
  • 4
    Yep, WRI should hire someone to tidy up docs. Documentation is nice but after a closer look it is a mess which will waste your time unless you get a habit to test each statement... which would be a wast of time anyway since documentation should be correct...
    – Kuba Mod
    May 20, 2015 at 7:26


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