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Apparently Unix Version 6 (1975) used Thompson Shell which (provided the manuals are correct [1][2]) didn't support arbitrary variables (and even environment variables were not a thing back then). However for use in scripts $0, $1, etc were replaces with the script name and the arguments.

1: https://www.in-ulm.de/~mascheck/bourne/v6/

2: https://etsh.nl/man/_tsh.1.html




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