Spelling Lesson




July 21, 2020


Came across this funny ditty by Ralph P. Boas in the June 1984 issue of The College Mathematics Journal. The complete citation is: Boas, R. P. (1984). Spelling lesson. The College Mathematics Journal, 15(3), 217.

Spelling Lesson

Weep for the mathematicians
  Posterity acclaims:
Although we know their theorems
  We cannot spell their names.

Forget the rules you thought you knew
Henri Lebesgue has got no Q.

Although it almost rhymes with Birkhoff,
Two H’s grace the name of Kirchhoff.

The Schwarz of inequality
And lemma too, he has no T.

The “distribution” Schwartz, you see
Is French, and so he has a T.

In Turing’s name—no German, he—
An umlaut we should never see.

Hermann Grassmann—please try to
Spell both his names with 2 N’s, too.

If you should ever have to quote
A Harvard Peirce, be sure to note
He has the E before the I;
And so does Klein. Rules still apply
To Wiener: I precedes the E;
The same for Riemann, as you see.
But Weierstrass, the lucky guy,
Has it both ways, with EIE.

Fejer, Turan, Cesaro, Frechet—
Let’s make the accents go that way,

And as for Radon-Nikodým,
Restore the accent, that’s my dream.

“Stokes’s theorem” is O.K.
“Stokes’ theorem” is an awkward way.
“Stoke’s theorem” seems to be a joke,
Or did you think his name was “Stoke?”

But there is one I leave to you,
Whatever you may choose to do:
Put letters in or leave them out,
Garnish with accents round about,
Finish the name with eff or off:
There is no way to spell Чебышëв

The poem was accompanied by this lovely illustration. No image credit was given; perhaps it was also Boas.