It’s been a year, but I’m still thinking about this tweet:
Pythagoras was many wonderful things. A delirious mystic. A benevolent cult leader. A bean-hating vegetarian. A real person (maybe).
One thing he was not: the guy who gave us the Pythagorean Theorem.
So why does he get his name on it? I cry foul. I cry “no more.” I cry, “Let us band together and vote on a better name for this ancient theorem! Not because it will actually result in a name change, but because it’s a fun debate!”
Who’s with me?!
I submit for your consideration the following names, from Hambrecht and the other clever folks in his thread:
- The Three Squares Theorem. Although we perceive it as a claim about numbers, for most mathematical cultures, this was a claim about shapes. To wit: if you affix squares to the sides of a right triangle, the two smaller areas add up to equal the largest.
- The Babylonian Formula. Give credit where credit is due! As Hambrecht says, this name “has the hint of far-away times and places… Through millenia and continents, this piece of math connects us to strange, alien people, yet so much our equals.” He calls it “fuel for children’s imaginations.” Even more important, as an astute observer points out: it can be abbreviated as “Baby Formula.”
- The Distance Theorem. The theorem’s most ubiquitous use is in finding distances, especially in higher dimensions.
- The Huey Lewis Theorem. Proposed (or, pun-posed) by Susan Burns, because, and I quote: “It’s hyp to be square…or is that b-squared?”
- The Adrakhonic Theorem, because that’s what it’s called in Neal Stephenson’s novel Anathem (which I just added to my reading list).
- Squaring the Triangle. Olaf Doschke’s suggestion, with a ring of the famously impossible “squaring the circle.”
- The Sum of Squares Theorem. Descriptive, clear.
- Garfield’s Theorem. Because if we’re just naming it after a random dude who supplied a proof, why not pick an assassinated U.S. president?
- Theorem 3-4-5. After the most famous Pythagorean triple.
- Euclid, Book I, Proposition 47. “Like chapter and verse in the mathematical bible,” explains George Jelliss.
- The Hypotenuse Theorem. Because it’s all about that longest side.
- The Right Theorem. Because it’s all about that right angle. (Also, because it’s right.)
- The Distance/Area Theorem. Because it’s all about multiple things at once.
- The Benjamin Watson Theorem. Because of this heroic, historic tackle, brought to my attention by Fawn Nguyen in her appearance on My Favorite Theorem.
Now, we could leave it there. We could say, “This has been a fruitful discussion. Let’s call it a day!” We could say, “Obviously a random blog post isn’t going to succeed in renaming the most famous theorem in mathematics, so let’s go home and eat raisins and watch sitcom reruns like the human mediocrities we are.”
But I say no! I say it’s time for a referendum!
What say you, good people of the internet? What is the best name for this fundamental theorem of geometry?
Other ideas are, of course, welcome in the comments below.