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

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

Frank Harary
Frank Harary

It appears on Pg. 17 in reference to k-colored graphs. Read and Wright are 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 the paper 3 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.

  1. R.C. Read, The number of k-colored graphs on labelled nodes, Canad. J. Math. 12, 409–413 (1960) 

  2. E.M. Wright, Counting coloured graphs, Canad. J. Math. 13, 683–693 (1961) 

  3. R.C. Read and E.M. Wright, Coloured graphs: A correction and extension, Canad. J. Math. 22, 594–596 (1970)  2