When speaking about tuples, I used to say and write "The number $a$ is the first component of the tuple $(a,b,c)$, and $c$ is its last component". This all went well until I had to speak about software components in the same text; the meaning of "component" got overloaded. (Luckily, I don't have connected components of graphs in the text, otherwise the situation could have been even trickier.) A change is need, so I'm thinking about saying "entry" for a part of a tuple. How do sentences such as "The number $a$ is the first entry of the tuple $(a,b,c)$, and $c$ is its last entry" sound? Any arguments for/against using "entry" to denote a part of a tuple?

Using "first element of a tuple" is not good in my case, as it would produce a clash when I'm speaking about different implementations of tuples in set theories.

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    $\begingroup$ What about "dimension"? Since this is ordered list, the "entry" does not sound bad. $\endgroup$
    – Evil
    Jun 29 '16 at 22:46

A main guideline of clear writing is: know your audience, and do whatever works. Use whatever will be clearest to your audience. That might depend on surrounding context.

"First component" or "first element" are both fine and reasonable. "First entry" also seems fine. Use context to help clarify possibly ambiguous cases. A phrase like "the first component of the tuple $t$" seems pretty clear and hard to mis-interpret.

Being consistent can potentially be helpful. If you use "first component" throughout most of a document but switch to "first entry" in one or two places, that might actually be more confusing than any confusion caused by the multiple possible meanings of the word "component".

I think you might be holding yourself to an unreasonable standard, by trying to eliminate all possibilities where one word could mean multiple things depending on context. Overloading will happen, and you can't always avoid it. Instead, use context to avoid confusion. That's the great thing about natural language -- we can put together sentences containing multiple words and phrases, to make our intent clear.


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