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Article  We've been misreading a major law of physics for the past 300 years?

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INTRO: When Isaac Newton inscribed onto parchment his now-famed laws of motion in 1687, he could have only hoped we'd be discussing them three centuries later.

Writing in Latin, Newton outlined three universal principles describing how the motion of objects is governed in our Universe, which have been translated, transcribed, discussed and debated at length.

But according to a philosopher of language and mathematics, we might have been interpreting Newton's precise wording of his first law of motion slightly wrong all along.

Virginia Tech philosopher Daniel Hoek wanted to "set the record straight" after discovering what he describes as a "clumsy mistranslation" in the original 1729 English translation of Newton's Latin Principia.

Based on this translation, countless academics and teachers have since interpreted Newton's first law of inertia to mean an object will continue moving in a straight line or remain at rest unless an outside force intervenes.

It's a description that works well until you appreciate external forces are constantly at work, something Newton would have surely have considered in his wording.

Revisiting the archives, Hoek realized this common paraphrasing featured a misinterpretation that flew under the radar until 1999, when two scholars picked up on the translation of one Latin word that had been overlooked: quatenus, which means "insofar", not unless.

To Hoek, this makes all the difference. Rather than describing how an object maintains its momentum if no forces are impressed on it, Hoek says the new reading shows Newton meant that every change in a body's momentum – every jolt, dip, swerve, and spurt – is due to external forces... (MORE - details)

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