The Math Forum

Search All of the Math Forum:

Views expressed in these public forums are not endorsed by NCTM or The Math Forum.

Math Forum » Discussions » Inactive » Historia-Matematica

Notice: We are no longer accepting new posts, but the forums will continue to be readable.

Topic: [HM] radians in 1815?
Replies: 0  

Advanced Search

Back to Topic List Back to Topic List  
James Propp

Posts: 16
Registered: 12/3/04
[HM] radians in 1815?
Posted: Jul 11, 2006 7:16 PM
  Click to see the message monospaced in plain text Plain Text   Click to reply to this topic Reply

In Patrick O'Brian's novel "The Mauritius Command", Captain Jack
Aubrey speaks glowingly of the astronomer Caroline Herschel
(sister of the more famous astronomer William Herschel), and
declares "Ask her the measure of an arc whose cosine is nought,
and instantly she replies pi upon two!"

Is this an anchronism? The events of the book take place around
1815, and my Merriam Webster's dictionary (tenth edition) gives
1879 as the first year in which the word "radian" was used.
(Clearly Aubrey is referring to the angle-measure of the arc,
and not its arc-length, since in the latter case the measure
of the arc could not be determined without knowing the radius.)

Earlier in the book, Dr. Stephen Maturin affectionately addresses
Aubrey's wife as "Honey" --- a usage of the word I had always
associated with twentieth-century America, not nineteenth-century
England. But I think it's likely that O'Brian did his homework when
choosing the words with which his characters express affection. He
might not have been equally careful about the words with which his
characters express mathematics!

Jim Propp

Point your RSS reader here for a feed of the latest messages in this topic.

[Privacy Policy] [Terms of Use]

© The Math Forum at NCTM 1994-2018. All Rights Reserved.