Counting Collinear Sides
Date: 04/12/2013 at 11:24:00 From: Beth Subject: definition of octagon and polygon Can a figure drawn as a rectangle with one point on each side be classified as an octagon? Generally speaking, can sides of a polygon be collinear? Some argue that this fits the definition of both polygons and octagons. I see their argument that the figure has 8 vertices and 8 sides. And we're clearly dealing with a closed figure made of 3 or more line segments. But I say no. I believe consecutive sides of a polygon cannot be collinear.
Date: 04/12/2013 at 17:23:45 From: Doctor Peterson Subject: Re: definition of octagon and polygon Hi, Beth. Many statements of the definition of a polygon are not quite complete, because we generally "know what a polygon is when we see one!" Some definitions do explicitly include a restriction that adjacent sides must not be collinear; others, even from fairly careful sources, do not, perhaps because we don't think of the possibility, or else because we don't want our definitions to be too complicated. The fact is, definitions are more flexible than most people realize, even in math. For some purposes, we don't want what might be called degenerate vertices, as in your example, because it would mess up what we want to do; for example, it would affect the number of diagonals in a convex polygon, unless we disallow this as a convex polygon. For other purposes, such as in topology, collinearity doesn't matter. Wikipedia makes just this sort of statement: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygon In geometry a polygon is a flat shape consisting of straight lines that are joined to form a closed chain or circuit. The basic geometrical notion has been adapted in various ways to suit particular purposes. Mathematicians are often concerned only with the closed polygonal chain and with simple polygons which do not self-intersect, and may define a polygon accordingly. Geometrically two edges meeting at a corner are required to form an angle that is not straight (180 degrees); otherwise, the line segments will be considered parts of a single edge; however mathematically, such corners may sometimes be allowed. Note that the definition itself does not happen to mention collinearity, but the additional comment points out variations in whether self-intersecting polygons are allowed (if they are, then we need the qualifier "simple" to exclude them), and also your issue of whether straight angles are allowed. MathWorld does explicitly reject straight angles, by a restriction on successive vertices: http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Polygon.html A polygon can be defined as a geometric object "consisting of a number of points (called vertices) and an equal number of line segments (called sides), namely a cyclically ordered set of points in a plane, with no three successive points collinear, together with the line segments joining consecutive pairs of the points. In other words, a polygon is a closed broken line lying in a plane" (Coxeter and Greitzer 1967, p. 51). There is unfortunately substantial disagreement over the definition of a polygon. Other sources commonly define a polygon as a "closed plane figure with straight edges" (Gellert et al. 1989, p. 162), "a closed plane figure bounded by straight line segments as its sides" (Bronshtein et al. 2003, p. 137), or "a closed plane figure bounded by three or more line segments that terminate in pairs at the same number of vertices, and do not intersect other than at their vertices" (Borowski and Borwein 2005, p. 573). These definitions all imply that a polygon is a set of line segments plus the region they enclose, though they never define precisely what is meant by "closed plane figure" and universally depict polygons as a [set of] closed broken black lines with no shading of the interiors. Here, too, we find a note on variations -- this time about whether the polygon is just the outline or also the interior. I've made some similar comments about variations in the definition, though I didn't mention collinearity: On Polygons, Polygons within Polygons, and Definitions http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/76073.html The questioner above mentioned that his text requires non-collinearity, though that was not an issue and I happen not to have mentioned it in my own definition. (You may find the links in that page interesting, too.) So I'd say you're correct with regard to common usage, but it is entirely reasonable, for some purposes, to extend the definition to allow straight angles. - Doctor Peterson, The Math Forum http://mathforum.org/dr.math/
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