Read wrote Wright… Graph Theorists playing with words

Frank Harary, Oberwolfach (1972)

I was going through the first chapter of the book Graphical Enumeration by Frank Harary and Edgar M. Palmer when I chanced upon this perplexing footnote:

Read wrote Wright that both Read [R2]1 and Wright [W3]2 were wrong. So Read and Wright wrote a joint erratum [RW1]3 to set things right. This may be wrong since Wright asserts that Wright wrote Read first.


It appears on Pg. 17 in reference to k-colored graphs. Read and Wright are, of course, the mathematicians Ronald C. Read and Edward M. Wright!

A quick glance at the bibliography confirms that the above footnote describes, even if humorously, a true incident. However, I can’t say what the last sentence means: This may be wrong since Wright asserts that Wright wrote Read first. Does it mean:

  • There is a genuine priority dispute as to who figured the error out [I don't think this is the case]. Or,
  • Since [RW1] paper has Read as the first author (so, in that sense, “Read wrote first”), Wright couldn’t have written first. Or,
  • Since “write” must happen before “read”, Wright wrote first. Or,
  • It doesn’t mean anything — the authors are just playing around with words!

I could not find anything relevant by searching the phrase “Read wrote Wright” on Google.com. I’ll be eager to learn any other clues the reader might have as as to the meaning of the last sentence of the footnote.

Aside: It is sad that the Graphical Enumeration book, which was published by Academic Press, New York (1973), has apparently gone out of print. I’ve added it to the out of print math blog.

  1. [R2] R.C. Read, The number of k-colored graphs on labelled nodes, Canad. J. Math. 12, 409–413 (1960).
  2. [W3] E.M. Wright, Counting coloured graphs, Canad. J. Math. 13, 683–693 (1961).
  3. [RW1] R.C. Read and E.M. Wright, Coloured graphs: A correction and extension, Canad. J. Math. 22, 594–596 (1970).

2 thoughts on “Read wrote Wright… Graph Theorists playing with words

  1. svat

    Wonderful, thanks!

    I think it’s the first one (with a little bit of the last). Not necessarily a *serious* priority dispute, but often with events like this, different authors have different recollections of what happened. Here, presumably, Read thinks he wrote about the error to Wright first, while Wright thinks it was the other way around. Usually not worth mentioning, but the authors chose to add the sentence for the play on words.

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