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μαθηματικό χιουμοράκι!!

μαθηματικό χιουμοράκι!!

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Published by: Γιαννης Δουβος on Oct 16, 2013
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02/05/2015

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Foolproof: A Samplingof Mathematical FolkHumor
Paul Renteln and Alan Dundes 
24 N
OTICES OF THE
AMS V
OLUME
52, N
UMBER
1
I
n the discipline known as folkloristics [D1] (thestudy of folklore), a
folk 
is defined as anygroup whatsoever that shares at least onecommon linking factor. The factor could be na-tionality, ethnicity, religion, or occupation.Members of a profession would also qualify as afolk group. Hence, mathematicians constitute afolk. And, like all folk groups, mathematicians havetheir own folk speech (slang), proverbs, limericks,and jokes, among other forms of folklore. It is pre-cisely the folklore of a group that defines thatgroup. So, mathematicians as a group share a com-mon core of mathematical folklore. Some of thisfolklore tends to be quite esoteric and intelligibleonly to members of the group. Outsiders not pos-sessing the requisite mathematical vocabulary andknowledge rarely know such esoteric material, andeven if they did they would probably not under-stand it. But there is also exoteric mathematicalfolklore that is known to a limited number of out-siders, for example, physicists, chemists, and en-gineers. Much of this exoteric folklore consists of classic jokes contrasting members of different butrelated academic disciplines. We intend to offer a brief sampling of both esoteric and exoteric math-ematical folklore, concentrating on humorous gen-res such as jokes. We are persuaded that thesedata not only serve as a basis for identity amongmathematicians but also provide a unique windowon mathematical culture in general, and even aclue as to the nature of mathematical thinking.As the readership of the
Notices 
is principallyprofessional mathematicians, we do not feel it isnecessary to explain all the data we present. Mostreaders will already be familiar with many if notall of the examples given here. That is to be ex-pected. All folklore exists in multiple forms anddemonstrates variation. There are often many ver-sions of a classic joke or legend. The same absent-minded professor joke, for example, may be at-tached to various historical individuals, forexample, Norbert Wiener and John von Neumann.So it is likely that each reader will recognize a par-ticular item even though he or she might haveheard it (orally) in a slightly different form.
1
Making Fun of Mathematics
Many English-language mathematical jokes are based on word play involving standard mathe-matical concepts and terminology. In fact, many of the jokes involve food items, which may be a re-flection of the fact that some mathematical con-cepts are hard to digest, or difficult to swallow:
Q: 
What’s purple and commutes? 
A:
An abelian grape.
Paul Renteln is professor and chair of the Department of Physics at California State University, San Bernardino,and visiting associate in the Department of Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. His email address is 
prenteln@csusb.edu.
Alan Dundes is professor of anthropology and folklore at the University of California, Berkeley. His email address is 
carolynb@sscl.berkeley.edu
.
1
Many of the following texts come from oral tradition,but we have also borrowed freely from various Internet websites, including 
and 
.
 
 J
ANUARY
2005 N
OTICES OF THE
AMS 25
There are several other variants of this joke:
Q: 
What’s purple, commutes, and is worshipped by a limited number of people? 
A:
A finitely-venerated abelian grape.
Q: 
What is lavender and commutes? 
A:
An abelian semigrape.
Q: 
What is purple and all of its offspring have beencommitted to institutions? 
A:
A simple grape: it has no normal subgrapes.
Q: 
What’s purple, round, and doesn’t get much for Christmas? 
A:
A finitely presented grape.
Q: 
What’s an abelian group under addition, closed,associative, distributive, and bears a curse? 
A:
The Ring of the Nibelung.
Q: 
What’s nutritious and commutes? 
A:
An abelian soup.
Q: 
What’s hot, chunky, and acts on a polygon? 
A:
Dihedral soup.
Q: 
What’s sour, yellow, and equivalent to the Axiomof Choice? 
A:
Zorn’s Lemon.
There are thousands of lemmas in mathemat-ics, so in principle the same word play would workon any one of them, yet this joke based on Zorn’slemma continues to be popular. Why should this be so? The reason for this becomes clearer whenwe recall that the Axiom of Choice can be used toprove many counterintuitive results in set theory,such as the Banach-Tarski paradox. This leadssome mathematicians to reject the Axiom of Choice.Yet because it is so useful (and because it seemsso innocuous at first glance), many mathemati-cians accept it, but with strong reservations. Theyfind it distasteful, or unpalatable, or, if you will, a bitter fruit.Here is another one, even more revealing:
Q: 
What is brown, furry, runs to the sea, and is equiv- alent to the Axiom of Choice? 
A:
Zorn’s lemming.
Lemmings are known to follow each other blindly into the sea, where they drown. The impli-cation of this version seems to be that mathe-maticians who rely upon the Axiom of Choice areall lemmings who blindly follow one another andwho may all be headed for intellectual death.
Q: 
What is green and homeomorphic to the open unit interval? 
A:
The real lime.
Q: 
What’s yellow, linear, normed, and complete? 
A:
A Bananach space.
Q: 
What do you call a young eigensheep? 
A:
A lamb, duh! 
Q: 
What’s the value of a contour integral around Western Europe? 
A:
Zero, because all the Poles are in Eastern Europe.Addendum: Actually, there ARE some Poles in West- ern Europe, but they are removable! 
2
Q: 
Why did the mathematician name his dog “Cauchy”? 
A:
Because he left a residue at every pole.
Q: 
What is a topologist? 
A:
Someone who cannot distinguish between a doughnut and a coffee cup.
Q: 
Why didn’t Newton discover group theory? 
A:
Because he wasn’t Abel.
Q: 
What do you get if you cross an elephant and a banana? 
A:
|elephant|*|banana|*sin(theta).
2
There are several shaggy dog stories based on wordplay in complex analysis. For example: 
A bunch of Polish scientists decided to flee their re-pressive government by hijacking an airliner and forcingthe pilot to fly them to a western country. They drove tothe airport, forced their way on board a large passenger jet, and found there was no pilot on board. Terrified, theylistened as the sirens got louder. Finally, one of the sci-entists suggested that since he was an experimentalist,he would try to fly the aircraft. He sat down at the con-trols and tried to figure them out. The sirens got louderand louder. Armed men surrounded the jet. The would- be pilot’s friends cried out, “Please, please take off now!!!Hurry!!!” The experimentalist calmly replied, “Have pa-tience. I’m just a simple pole in a complex plane.”A group of Polish tourists is flying on a small airplanethrough the Grand Canyon on a sightseeing tour. The tourguide announces: “On the right of the airplane, you cansee the famous Bright Angle Falls.” The tourists leap outof their seats and crowd to the windows on the right side.This causes a dynamic imbalance, and the plane violentlyrolls to the side and crashes into the canyon wall. Allaboard are lost. The moral of this episode is: always keepyour poles off the right side of the plane.
For a classification of shaggy dog stories, including ones with punch lines based on “an Axiom of Science”, see [B].
 
26 N
OTICES OF THE
AMS V
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52, N
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1
Q: 
What do you get if you cross a mosquito with a mountain climber? 
A:
You can’t cross a vector with a scalar.
or this variation
Q: 
What do you get when you cross a mountain goat and a mountain climber? 
A:
Nothing—you can’t cross two scalars.
3
Q: 
What is a compact city? 
A:
It’s a city that can be guarded by finitely many nearsighted policemen.
4
Q: 
What’s a dilemma? 
A:
A lemma that produces two results.
Q: 
What’s a polar bear? 
A:
A rectangular bear after a coordinate transform.
Q: 
What goes “Pieces of seven! Pieces of seven!” 
A:
A parroty error.
Q: 
Why can’t you grow wheat in
Z/
6
A:
It’s not a field.
Q: 
What’s big, grey, and proves the uncountability of the reals? 
A:
Cantor’s diagonal elephant.
5
Q: 
What is gray and huge and has integer coeffi- cients? 
A:
An elephantine equation.
Q: 
What is very old, used by farmers, and obeys thefundamental theorem of arithmetic? 
A:
An antique tractorization domain.
Q: 
What is hallucinogenic and exists for every group with order divisible by 
p
k
A:
A psilocybin p-subgroup.
Q: 
What is often used by Canadians to help solve cer- tain differential equations? 
A:
The Lacross transform.
Q: 
What is clear and used by trendy sophisticated engineers to solve other differential equations? 
A:
The Perrier transform.
Q: 
Who knows everything there is to be known about vector analysis? 
A:
The Oracle of del phi! 
Q: 
Why can fish from the United States enter Cana- dian waters without a passport? 
A:
This is permitted by the Law of Aquatic reci- procity! 
Q: 
Why are topologists especially prone to malaria? 
A:
This disease comes from the Tietze fly!! 
6
Q: 
Why do truncated Maclaurin series fit the origi- nal function so well? 
A:
Because they are “Taylor” made.
Q: 
What is locally like a ring and very evil? 
A:
A devilish scheme.
Q: 
What is a proof? 
A:
One-half percent of alcohol.
Q: 
Can you prove Lagrange’s Identity? 
A:
Are you kidding? It’s really hard to prove the iden- tity of someone who’s been dead for over 150 years! 
Q: 
What is black and white ivory and fills space? 
A:
A piano curve.
Q: 
What’s polite and works for the phone company
A:
A deferential operator.
Q: 
What does an analytic number theorist say whenhe is drowning? 
A:
Log-log, log-log, log-log, ….
3
For further discussion of cross breed riddles, see [AH].
4
Some mathematicians are so concerned about precisionthat they feel compelled to correct the mathematics in the jokes themselves. The following email comment on this jokeappeared at  
: From:  
http://wheierman#NoSpam.corunduminium.com(Will Heierman): Re-cently, I read the following riddle on a mathjoke website. It was attributed to Peter Lax.
“What is a compact city?” “A city that can be guarded by a finite number of near- sighted policemen.” 
However, I doubt that he would make such a mis-take. Moreover, he was my advisor when I wasa graduate student, and I actually recall a con-versation with him regarding this anecdote. Itdid not go exactly like this (but this makesa better story):
“Dr. Lax, wouldn’t it be better to say that a compact city is one that can be guarded by a finite number of police- men, no matter how nearsighted they are?” “That’s not any better, really, for if the nth policeman could only see a distance of 
1
/
2
(
n
+2)
, no finite number of themcould guard even
[0
,
1]
!” “Wow! How do we handle this?” “I might reword it slightly: A compact city is one which canbe guarded by a finite number of policemen, no matter how nearsighted a policeman is.” 
5
For a discussion of the significance of other jokes in theelephant cycle, see [AD].
6
This joke contains an epidemiological error and should more correctly read “Why are topologists especially proneto sleeping sickness?”, as it is sleeping sickness, not malaria,that is spread by the Tsetse fly.

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