In order theory, the *lexicographic order* is a generalization of the order in which words are listed in a dictionary, according to the order of the first letters for which the spelling of two words differs.

Let $\{L_i\}_{i \in I}$ be a well-ordered family of strictly totally ordered sets. The **lexicographic order** on the Cartesian product of sets $L = \prod_{i \in I} L_i$ is the strict total order defined as follows: if $x, y \in L$ and $x \neq y$, then $x \lt y$ iff $x_i \lt y_i$ where $i$ is the least element in the set $\{j \in I \colon x_j \neq y_j\}$.

While this notion is most often seen for strict total orders, it can be applied also toward more general relations. For example, one might apply the construction to sets equipped with a transitive relation $\lt$, dropping the trichotomy assumption.

Often this notion is extended to subsets of $\prod_{i \in I} L_i$ as well. For instance, the free monoid $S^\ast$ on a linearly ordered set $S$ can be embedded in a countable power

$i \;\colon\;
S^\ast
\xhookrightarrow{\phantom{--}}
(1 + S)^\mathbb{N}
\;=\;
\prod_{n \in \mathbb{N}} (1 + S)
\,,$

where $1 + S$ is the result of freely adjoining a bottom element $e$ to $S$, and for each finite list $(s_1, \ldots, s_k)$ we have

$i(s_1, \ldots, s_k) = (s_1, s_2, \ldots, s_k, e, e, e, \ldots).$

Then the lexicographic order on $S^\ast$ is the one inherited from its embedding into the lexicographically ordered set $(1 + S)^\mathbb{N}$.

The decision to freely adjoin a *bottom* element $e$ is of course purely a convention, based on the ordinary dictionary convention that the Scrabble word AAH should come after AA. Alternatively, we could equally well deem that $e$ is a freely adjoined top element, so that AA comes after AAH; this might be called the “anti-dictionary” convention.

if $L$ is linearly ordered and the underlying set $C = L^\mathbb{N}$ is regarded as the terminal coalgebra for the functor $L \times - \colon Set \to Set$, with coalgebra structure $\langle h, t \rangle \colon C \to L \times C$, then the lexicographic order on $C$ may be defined corecursively:

- $c \lt c'$ if $h(c) \lt h(c')$ or ($h(c) = h(c')$ and $t(c) \lt t(c')$).

For the special case $L = \mathbb{N}$, the terminal coalgebra $\mathbb{N}^\mathbb{N}$ with this lexicographic order is order-isomorphic to the real interval $[0, \infty)$. This isomorphism is described more precisely here.

A category theoretic analysis of lexicographic order:

- Reinhard Börger, Walter Tholen, Anna Tozzi:
*Lexicographic sums and fibre-faithful maps*, Applied Categorical Structures**1**(1993) 59-83 [doi:10.1007/BF00872986]

Last revised on June 8, 2024 at 18:42:38. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.