THIRTEEN MISUNDERSTANDINGS
IN THE
HISTORY OF MATHEMATICS

By Michael Stueben: high school math/C.S. teacher
(mstueben@pen.k12.va.us)



In the interest of historical accuracy let it be known that....
  1. Fibonacci's daughter was not named "Bunny."

  2. Michael Rolle was not Danish, and did not call his daughter "Tootsie."

  3. William Horner was not called "Little-Jack" by his friends.

  4. The "G" in G. Peano does not stand for "grand."

  5. Rene Descartes' middle name is not "push."

  6. Isaac Barrow's middle name is not "wheel."

  7. There is no such place as the University of Wis-cosine, and if there was, the motto of their mathematics department would not be "Secant ye shall find."

  8. Although Euler is pronounced oil-er, it does not follow that Euclid is pronounced oi-clid.

  9. Franklin D. Roosevelt never said "The only thing we have to sphere is sphere itself."

  10. Fibonacci is not a shortened form of the Italian name that is actually spelled: F i bb ooo nnnnn aaaaaaaa ccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.

  11. It is true that August Mobius was a difficult and opinionated man. But he was not so rigid that he could only see one side to every question.

  12. It is true that Johannes Kepler had an uphill struggle in explaining his theory of elliptical orbits to the other astronomers of his time. And it is also true that his first attempt was a failure. But it is not true that after his lecture the first three questions he was asked were "What is elliptical?" What is an orbit?" and "What is a planet?

  13. It is true that primitive societies use only rough approximations for the known constants of mathematics. For example, the northern tribes of Alaska consider the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle to be 3. But it is not true that the value of 3 is called Eskimo pi. Incidentally, the survival of these tribes is dependent upon government assistance, which is not always forthcoming. For example, the Canadian firm of Tait and Sons sold a stock of defective compasses to the government at half-price, and the government passed them onto the northern natives. Hence the saying among these peoples: "He who has a Tait's is lost."