In the ongoing process of unboxing books, I just ran across one I hadn’t looked at in ages: Philip J. Davis‘s The Thread. Davis is a mathematician known (says Wikipedia) “for his work in numerical analysis and approximation theory,” and in 1963 he published a book, Interpolation and Approximation, which (again according to Wikipedia) is “still an important reference in this area.” The Thread begins with the publication of that book (after much travail, including a printers’ strike and the purchase of the publisher by a bigger publisher) and, after a few years, the receipt of a letter from a Scottish mathematician who praised the book but said:
“…your presentation is flawed by your insistence on spelling Chebyshev‘s name as ‘Tschebyscheff.’ This barbaric, Teutonic, non-standard orthography will gain you no friends. I sincerely hope that when you come to prepare the second edition of your book you will alter this incorrect and irritating spelling. Yours faithfully, John Begg, Professor of Mathematics.”
The rest of the book is a madly digressive attempt to explain why his impulse was to tell the man “to go fry his fish elsewhere”; this involves a brief history of mathematics in general and Russian mathematics in particular, an explanation of how the Cyrillic alphabet came to be and why the name in question “appears in six different spellings,” the Coptic origin of the name Pafnuty, and many other things. If whimsical digression gives you pleasure and you can bear nontechnical discussion of mathematics, you should definitely investigate this little (124-page) book, whose bibliography includes Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers, O. R. Kuehene’s A Study of the Thaïs Legend, I. V. Kuznetsova’s Lyudi Russkoi Nauki, Thomas R. Hazard’s The Jonny-Cake Papers, René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s Oracles and Demons of Tibet, and the Erinnerungsblätter der Mathematischen Gesellschaft zu Jena (Jena, 1859-1877), inter alia.
Oh, and a fact he never mentions: the name is pronounced che-bi-SHOF. Ah, Russian!