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Punch Lines
© 2000-2016   Gérard P. Michon, Ph.D.

Science & Humor

...and the geek shall inherit the Earth.
Neil deGrasse Tyson  (b. 1958)
Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves,
for they shall never cease to be amused
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Related Links (Outside this Site)

Mathematicians, Physicists, Engineers, Programmers, etc. by David Shay.
Bamdad's Math Comics by Bamdad Samii (Cal. State Northridge).
mathNEWS by Jennifer Costello (University of Waterloo)   |   Fun with Math
Math Jokes   |   Math in the Media (1999-08)   |   Engineering School Jokes
The Frog and the Engineer   |   Chocolate Chip Cookies   |   Truth or Fiction
Awarding the Wrong People?   |   Tom Swanson's Cartoon Page
Worthless Word for the Day  by Michael A. Fischer.   |   Johnny's Jokes
A Guide to Effective Scientific Communication & jokes, by Stewart Hector.
Talk Like a Physicist   |   Physical Theories as Women, by Simon Dedeo.
The Crackpot Index by John Baez   |   The Crackpot Page by Randall J Scalise
www.crank.netCranks, crackpots, kooks & loons ...

DMOZ: Recreation : Humor : Science

In the media:

 Cartoon from page 212 of 
 The Book of Numbers (1996) 
 by John H. Conway
 and Richard K. Guy


(2002-06-24)   Standard Jokes and "New Classics"
We credit whoever reports a joke (actual origins are usually unknown).

2 lines or less:

Chemists think they're physicists, physicists think they're gods
and God thinks He is a mathematician.

If it wasn't for Thomas Edison, we'd all be watching TV...
to the light of a candle.

The contour integral around Western Europe is zero.
(All the Poles are in Eastern Europe.)

[Coldfuse 2002-06-24]
If I had three months to live, I'd spend the time in a statistics class...
Three months would seem like an eternity.

[Fourbrick 2003-06-10]
They say that we only ever use 12% of our brain.
The other half is never used.

[den0eng3 2002-06-24]0... 1... 2... 3?
There are three types of mathematicians:
Those who can count, and those who can't count.

[FlyingHellfish 2002-07-01]0... 1... 0...
There are 10 types of people:
Those who understand binary numbers, and those who don't.

[Russell's Paradox 2010-04-23] Huh?
There are two types of people:
Those who can be classified into one of two types, and those who can't.

5 lines or less:

After the Flood, Noah lets all the animals out of the ark and tells them to go forth and multiply.  A few months later, all are doing fine except a pair of snakes who beg Noah to cut down some trees and let them live there.  Soon, there are lots of little snakes and everybody is happy.  "How did the trees help?", wonders Noah.  "Well, we're adders.  We need logs to multiply."

Returning from a conference, Polish physicists find themselves in a plane whose pilot dies from a heart attack.  There's only one experimentalist in the bunch who dares try to fly the aircraft.  He has trouble figuring things out and apologizes to the others:  "I'm just a simple Pole in a complex plane."

An astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician are visiting Scotland by train.  They see a black sheep grazing in a pasture.  The astronomer observes that Scottish sheep are black.  The physicist objects that they only know about one such sheep.  The mathematician intones: "In Scotland, there's at least one pasture with at least one sheep having at least one black side."

As Derivation approached, all functions fled, except the Natural Exponential:
- "Don't you fear me?" says Derivation.
- "I am e to the x,  you can't touch me."
- "Oh, but who says I differentiate along x?"

[Arnaud Ferec, 2008-11-24]
To an optimist,  the glass is half full.
To a pessimist,  the glass is half empty.
To an engineer,  the glass is twice as big as needed.

Three scientists observed that 2 people entered a house and 3 came out.
The physicist: "The measurement wasn't accurate."
The biologist: "They have reproduced."
The mathematician: "If one person enters the house, it will be empty again."

Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) is arrested for speeding :
- "Do you have any idea how fast you were going?"
- "Very much so, but I didn't know where I was."

A pre-med student rudely interrupts a physics lecture:
- "Why do we have to learn this useless stuff?"
- "It saves lives."
- "How does physics save lives?"
- "It keeps ignoramuses out of medical school."

NASA scientists had developped a gun to hurl dead chicken at aircrafts to study the effect of accidental encounters with airborne fowl.  When the British used the gun to test a new high-speed train, the chicken smashed the windshield, destroyed the console and embedded itself in the cabin wall!  The Britons wired NASA about this...  The answer:  "Thaw the chicken."

This "catapoultry" story was heard [ ? ] on the "Late Late Show with Tom Snyder", on 1997-03-03.

(2007-04-25)   On Limericks and Spoonerisms...
The poetic form popularized by Edward Lear (1845) and many others.

 Strip A mathematician confided
That a Möbius band is one-sided,
      And you'll get quite a laugh,
      If you cut one in half,
For it stays in one piece when divided.
There once was a fellow with a horse.
He taught him all forms of math discourse,
      Sparing just one mystery:
      Cartesian geometry.

You can't put Descartes before the horse !
 Arms of 
 Rene Descartes
(G. Michon, 2007-05-07)

(2006-02-01)   Circular credit about an  Infinite Descent  proof...

The so-called  Method of Infinite Descent  establishes that no positive integer can possibly have a given property by showing that a strictly  smaller  positive integer with the same property would otherwise exist...

The French mathematician Michel Mendès-France reported  (2001-08-20)  that Mike Keane and himself have credited  each other  for a great proof of the irrationality of Ö2,  using the  method of infinite descent.  So, the following proof now belongs to  folklore,  without a known author:

Since 1 < Ö2 < 2,  if a positive integer  n  was making  nÖ2  an integer, the smaller positive integer  m = (Ö2-1) n  would make  mÖ2  an integer also!   QED

For the sake of pedagogy only, let's be less terse and more general:

Theorem of Theodorus  (before 399 BC)  by infinite descent:

If the integer   q > 0   isn't a perfect square, its square root is irrational.

Theodorus of Cyrene  (465-398 BC)  taught mathematics to  Plato  (427-347 BC)  and  Theaetetus of Athens  (c. 417-369 BC).  The latter would then expand his work on irrationals, culminating in the synthetic account given in  Book X  of  Euclid's elements  (c. 300 BC).  In the dialog named after  Theaetetus,  Plato himself recollects how Theodorus was teaching his own result, in 399 BC, for values of  q  "up to 17"  [probably for pedagogical reasons]  and how the young Theaetetus got excited "generalizing" it...

The  fundamental theorem of arithmetic  would provide a  simple  proof.  However, a  more elementary  one can be obtained by generalizing the above two-line proof  (which corresponds to  q = 2,  k = 1)  as follows:

The square root of any given integer  q  which isn't a perfect square is strictly between two consecutive integers  k  and  k+1.  For any positive integer  n  which would make  nÖq  an integer, we'd consider the integer  m = (Öq-k) n  which would make  mÖq  an integer also.  Well,  m  is positive because  k < Öq  and it's less that  n  because  Öq-k  is less than  1.  Thus, by  infinite descent,  no such  n  can exist.  Therefore,  Öq  is  irrational.   QED

(2007-07-28)   Trick Questions & Lateral Thinking
Legitimate questions can be  bad jokes  played on students.

Some of the links contain clues, others are just straight information...

The first one is mine (2007-07-28).  I have not tried it on anybody yet...

 Homer Simpson 
 at DrawingNow.com (2002-12-31)   Ignorance is bliss...
What's the big deal about mathematical texts, anyway?

David W. Cantrell  reports  the following anecdote involving two married friends of his, who were both attending graduate school at the time.  The wife is a mathematician.  The husband is a physicist.

A certain acquaintance of theirs was then working on her Ph.D. in history.  She became aware of—and appalled at—the glacial pace at which graduate texts in mathematics and physics were being covered.  She asked them to  please  lend her one of their texts so that she could form an opinion.  As she insisted, they lent her a text on General Relativity.  The  next day,  she returned the book to them, gleefully proclaiming that she had finished it.  They asked her if she had understood it.  She said that she had.  However, she was wondering why the authors never reduced "fractions"  like  dy/dx  by cancelling the factors of d...

Ignoramus,  n.   A person unacquainted with certain kinds of knowledge familiar to yourself, and having certain other kinds that you know nothing about.

The Devil's Dictionary (1890)
by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Ignorami :
What ignoramuses think the plural of ignoramus ought to be.

(2002-07-01)   Silly Answers to Funny Questions

The first one of these is the quintessential fruity "math joke"...

What's purple and commutes? answer
What's yellow and equivalent to the Axiom of Choice?   answer
What's green and homeomorphic to the open unit interval?   answer
What's a yellow complete normed space?   answer
What's nonorientable and lives in the sea?   answer
Why do programmers confuse Halloween and Christmas?   answer
What's the shortest mathematical joke? answer
Watt  Hertz  Faraday,  then  Gauss  away? answer
How many seconds in a year?  Either 31557600, or... 12

 Two Stupid Chickens
Why did the chicken cross the road?

Is it really just to get to the other side?

Scientific explanations:

The fittest chickens cross roads. [Darwin]
The road moved beneath the chicken. [Einstein]
Chickens at rest stay at rest, chickens in motion cross roads. [Newton]
We're not sure which side of the road the chicken was on. [Heisenberg]
There was already one chicken on this side of the road. [Pauli]

Unscientific ones:

For fun. [Epicurus]
It had a dream. [Martin Luther King Jr.]
Because the road was there. [Sir Edmund Hilary]
If you saw me coming you'd cross the road too! [Mr. T.]
Thy Chicken Shall Bear Witness. [Victor Sjöström, 1921]
Give me ten minutes with the chicken and I'll find out. [Torquemada]
None of your business;  we own the chicken, we own the road. [Bill Gates]
The chicken did not --I repeat: did not-- cross the road. [Richard Nixon]
The news of its crossing has been greatly exaggerated. [Mark Twain]
That's the way it is. [Walter Cronkite]
 (384-322 BC) I missed one? [Colonel Sanders]
Define "road". [Bill Clinton]

Philosophical perspectives:

It was a historical inevitability. [Karl Marx]
It is in the nature of chickens to cross roads. [Aristotle]
He was exercising his natural right to liberty. [John Locke]
Gaze too long across the Road and the Road gazes across you. [Nietzsche]
The possibility is encoded into the objects chicken and road. [Wittgenstein]
If you ask this question, you deny your own chicken-nature. [Buddha]



Q:   Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip?
A:   To get to the same side.

Video :   Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?   by  Michael Stevens   (Vsauce).

(2002-07-01)   Quotations
Funny or gripping.  Silly or wise.  Provocative or inspirational.

Socrates (469-399 BC), early moral philosopher.  
-   The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.

Plato (427-347 BC), legendary philosopher (founded Academy in 387 BC). 
-   Mathematics is like checkers in being suitable for the young, not too difficult, amusing, and without peril to the state. 
-   The knowledge of which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal. 
-   Let no one ignorant of geometry enter
  [Plato's Academy].
    "MHDEIS AGEWMETRHTOS EISITW"   [over the Academy's entrance]

Archimedes of Syracuse (287-212 BC), legendary engineer. 
-   I've got it!   [or "Eureka!", upon discovering the law of hydrostatics]
-   Give me a fulcrum and I'll move the World.   [probably apocryphal]
    "dos moi pou stw, kai kinw thn ghn" 
-   Don't disturb my circles!   [His last words, to the soldier who would kill him.]
    "mh mou touV kuklouV taratte"   (Latin:  Noli turbare circulos meos)

Probable arms of 
 Roger Bacon

Roger Bacon (1214-1294),  medieval scientist.
-   Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences ...  Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.  And what is worse, men who are thus ignorant are unable to perceive their own ignorance and so do not seek a remedy.   [Opus Majus, 1267]

   William of Ockham
William of Ockham
William of Ockham (1288-1348).
Occam's Razor  is the rule of parsimony:
-   Pluralitas non ponenda est sine necessitate.
[ KISS   =   Keep it simple, stupid. ]

William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), Irish mathematician. 
-   On Earth, there is nothing great but Man;
in Man, there is nothing great but mind.

Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915; Nobel 1908), bacteriologist. 
-   The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970; Nobel 1950), mathematician & philosopher. Arms of Bertrand Russell
-   Most people would rather die than think;  many do. 
-   Mathematics possesses not only truth but supreme beauty. 
-   I like mathematics because it is not human and has nothing particular to do with this planet or with the whole accidental universe--because, like Spinoza's God, it won't love us in return.

Godfrey Harold  Hardy (1877-1947), quintessential mathematician. 
-   It is not worth an intelligent man's time to be in the majority.  By definition, there are already enough people to do that.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955; Nobel 1921), legendary physicist. 
-   Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not.  [Quoting the first part suffices!]
     In GermanRaffiniert ist der Herr Gott, aber boshaft ist er nicht.
     In FrenchDieu est subtile, pas malveillant.  
 Albert Einstein -   Nothing happens until something moves. 
-   Imagination is more important than knowledge. 
-   Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. 
-   If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor. 
-   Gravitation cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. 
-   Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. 
-   The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once. 
-   Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen. 
-   The telegraph is like a very long cat; you pull the tail in New York and it meows in Los Angeles.  Radio operates the same way, but without a cat. 
-   We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. 
-   As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. 
-   Two things are infinite: the Universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the Universe... 
[ Attribution to Einstein is dubious. ]
-   I didn't arrive at my understanding of the fundamental laws of the Universe through my rational mind... 
-   Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. 
-   If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith.

Arms of Niels Bohr (1947) Niels Bohr (1885-1962; Nobel 1922), early guru of quantum physics. 
-   A physicist is just an atom's way of looking at itself.

John von Neumann (1903-1957), mathematical prodigy. 
-   In mathematics, you don't understand things, you just get used to them.

John Wheeler (1911-2008), foremost patriach of modern physics.
-   If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics,
you do not understand it. 
-   Time is defined so that motion looks simple.
    [This superbly deep statement was made to express a viewpoint attributed to Henri Poincaré.]  
-   We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance.  As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.
    [D. Lightfoot]

Paul Erdös (1913-1996), legendary mathematician. 
-   God may not play dice with the universe, but something strange is going on with the prime numbers.
-   A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems.

Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988;  Nobel 1965), cult figure of physics.
-   Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.  [1966]
-   I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics. 
-   Physics is like sex.  Sure, it may give some practical results, but that's not why we do it. 
-   I would hate to die twice, it's so boring.
    [His last words]

Michel Audiard (1920-1985), French playwright known for hilarious dialogs. 
-   Deux intellectuels assis vont moins loin qu' un con qui marche.
[Two sitting intellectuals won't travel as far as one walking fool.]

Raymond Devos (1922-2006), French wordsmith and stand-up comedian. 
-   Un jardinier qui sabote une pelouse est un assassin en herbe.
[A piece of untranslatable humor, unrelated to Science, for good measure.]

Steven Weinberg (1933-;  Nobel 1979), leading physicist and cosmologist.
-   The effort to understand the Universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.     [Last sentence of "The First Three Minutes", 1976]
-   At the deepest level, all we find are symmetries and responses to symmetries.     [1986 Dirac Memorial Lecture] 
-   We ought to try and preserve the meaning of words, and "God" historically has not meant "the laws of nature".   [Criticizing  S. Hawking] 
-   Good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things.  It takes religion for good people to do evil things.  [ cf. ffrf ]

Stephen Hawking (1942- , FRS).  Former Lucasian Professor at Cambridge
-   What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?   [...]   Why does the Universe go to all the bother of existing?     [From the closing sentences of "A Brief History of Time", 1988]

Douglas Adams (1952-2001).   The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
-   I love deadlines... and the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.


Sean Stephenson (1979- ).  3-foot giant.
-   When you find the purpose to your pain, you will find the drive to go through it and out the other side.

quoteworld | quotationspage | quoteland | sayings | science | brainyquote | last words | Andy's | etc.

Vincent Pattier  (2011-06-03)   Please translate Ben Franklin's quote:
"Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late."

The ongoing challenge is to translate that quote into as many languages as possible.  Please, send in your own answer in any language that you happen to know  very well.  Make it as elegant and idiomatic as possible...

The only noteworthy trap is that Franklin's words do  not  necessarily imply that we get old before we get wise  (which would be  really  tragic).

A quote from Benjamin Franklin  (1706-1790)
English Life's tragedy is that
we get old too soon and wise too late.
On d'vient vioque trop tôt et cador trop tard, c'est tragique. Gérard
French La [grande] tragédie de la vie c'est
qu'on devient vieux trop tôt et sage trop tard.
Dutch   Imelda
Serbo-Croatian Zivotna tragedija je sto nam starost dodje prerano, a mudrost prekasno. Michael
Russian Tragediya zhizni shto mui stareem slishkom buistro i preobretaem mudrost slishkom posno. Asya
Hungarian A tragedia hogy gyorsan yon az oregseg de lasan a okosag.  
Polish Największą tragedią w życiu jest to, że starzejemy się za wcześnie, a mądrzy stajemy się zbyt póżno. Sophie
Spanish La tragedia de la vida es que nos hacemos viejos demasiado temprano y llegamos a ser sabios demasiado tarde.
Swedish Livetstragedi är att bli gammal för tidigt
och klok för sent.
Portuguese A  [maior]  tragédia da vida é que ficamos
velhos cedo demais, e sábios tarde demais.
Denis Viala

The above entries are posted in the order received.  Give the name of the target language  in English.  If possible, provide a link that identifies you.

(2003-05-03) Famous Last Words
Guesses from the best experts are just guesses...

Jérôme LeFrançais de Lalande (1732-1807), French astronomer. 
-   L'homme ne volera jamais.  [May 23, 1782.  Man  did  fly one year later.]

 Arms of Lord Kelvin 
 (1824-1907) William Thomson, Lord Kelvin of Largs (1824-1907), physicist. 
-   Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.   [1896]
-   Radio has no future.   [1897]
-   X-rays will prove to be a hoax.   [1900]

Harry Warner (1881-1958) oldest of the four  Warner Brothers. 
-   Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?  [1927]

Irving Fisher (1867-1947), leading US economist [Yale University]. 
-   Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.  [1929]

Albert Einstein (1879-1955; Nobel 1921), legendary physicist. 
-   There is not the slightest indication that energy will ever be obtainable from the atom.   [1932]

Thomas John Watson, Sr. (1874-1956), chairman of IBM. 
-   I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.   [1943]

Top 10 Scientific Blunders   |   The Crystal Ball: from Here to Eternity   |   Famous Last Words
Bad Predictions

(2002-11-06)   Well-Documented Anecdotes

General Relativity

On November 6, 1919, Arthur Eddington (1882-1944) announced the results of his eclipse expeditions on May 29, which had confirmed Einstein's prediction of the bending of light by gravity.  The occasion was a joint meeting of the Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.  The chairman for the session was J.J. Thomson (1856-1940; Nobel 1906), who was then president of the Royal Society (he held the position from 1915 to 1920).  In his concluding remarks, Thomson said that:  "No one has yet succeeded in stating, in clear language, what the theory of Einstein really is."  As the meeting was dispersing, this statement prompted the polish-born physicist Ludwig Silberstein (author of an early book on Relativity) to come up to Eddington:

- Professor Eddington, you must be one of three persons in the world who understands general relativity...  Don't be modest.
- On the contrary, I am trying to think who the third person is.

The full story was told by Eddington, at a dinner of Trinity College during the Christmas recess of 1933, in the presence of his famous student Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995; Nobel 1983).  It appears in Chandrasekhar's 1987 book "Truth and Beauty", and/or in an earlier article of his, entitled "Einstein and general relativity: Historical perspectives".  This is probably the origin of the popular myth that: "Only three people in the world understand Relativity."

The 67th Mersenne Number

The number 2n-1 (now called the nth Mersenne number) can only be prime if the exponent (n) is itself prime.  This necessary condition is not sufficient :  Although 11 is prime, the eleventh Mersenne number is 2047, which is not (it's the product of 23 and 89)...  In 1644, Marin Mersenne (1588-1648) gave the first values of n for which the number obtained was thought to be prime (Mersenne primes may be used to form perfect numbers).  This mysterious list started correctly with 2, 3, 5, 7, 13, 17, 19, 31...  However, Mersenne's next entry was incorrect, as he omitted 61 which does belong (as first shown by I.M. Pervushin, in 1883) and included 67, which does not.  The Mersenne number corresponding to n = 67 is huge: 147573952589676412927.  This number was shown to be composite well before the computer era  (by Edouard Lucas, around 1875)  and it wasn't clear whether an explicit factorization of such a large number could  ever  be found.

So it was thought in October 1903, when Frank Nelson Cole (1861-1926) walked up to the blackboard, at a meeting of the American Mathematical Society (AMS).  The announced title of his presentation was "On the Factorization of Large Numbers".  Cole silently calculated by hand the 67th power of 2, subtracted 1, and wrote the result  (147573952589676412927)  on one side of the blackboard.  Then, he multiplied  761838257287  by  193707721  and obtained the same result...  Not uttering a single word,  Cole went back to his seat, under the first and only standing ovation ever recorded at an AMS meeting.  There were no questions.

Cole was a professor at Columbia.  He had worked every Sunday for 3 years to find that factorization.  Professor Cole served as AMS secretary for 25 years.  Two prestigious prizes (in Algebra, and in Number Theory) have been founded in his honor.

Anecdotes about famous scientists

(2002-11-03)   Parodies and Hoaxes
Clever practical jokes help make the intellectual world a healthier place.

Well, at least some of them do  (some others have depressing outcomes).

The Mystical Properties of 137 - 1931

In 1931, three physicists  (including future Nobel laureate Hans Bethe)  managed to publish the famous spoof article reproduced below [in an English translation taken from "A Random Walk in Science", a compilation by R.L. Weber, edited by E. Mendoza and published in 1973 by the Institute of Physics (London)].

This short article actually ridiculed the mystical kind of numerology which was once advocated by Sir Arthur Eddington, when our experimental knowledge of Sommerfeld's  fine structure constant  (a)  was consistent with the value 1/137 [the currently accepted value is 1/a = 137.035 999 76(50)].

Spoofingly equating degrees of freedom and degrees of temperature in the centigrade scale (which would officially be named after Anders Celsius in 1949), the authors offer an "explanation" for the fact that the absolute zero of temperature (-273.15°C) happens to be numerically close to -(2´137-1).

Remarks on the quantum theory of the absolute zero of temperature
by G. Beck, H. Bethe, and W. Riezler
in Die Naturwissenschaften, (1931) volume 2, pp. 38-39

Let us consider a hexagonal crystal lattice.  The absolute zero temperature is characterized by the condition that all degrees of freedom are frozen.  That means that all inner movements of the lattice cease.  This, of course, does not hold for an electron on a Bohr orbital.  According to Eddington, each electron has 1/a degrees of freedom, where alpha is the Sommerfeld fine structure constant.  Beside the electrons, the crystal contains only protons for which the number of degrees of freedom is the same since, according to Dirac, the proton can be viewed as a hole in the electron gas.  To obtain absolute zero temperature we therefore have to remove from the substance 2/a - 1 degrees of freedom per neutron.  (The crystal as a whole is supposed to be electrically neutral; 1 neutron = 1 electron + 1 proton.  One degree of freedom remains because of the orbital movement.)  For the absolute zero temperature we therefore obtain

To   =   -(2/a - 1)   degrees

If we take To = -273, we obtain for 1/a the value of 137, which agrees within limits with the number obtained by an entirely different method.  It can be shown easily that this result is independent of the choice of crystal structure.

The Philadelphia Experiment - 1943

During World War II, the legend was born that the U.S. Navy had perfected its  degaussing  of warships  (which made them effectively invisible to magnetically-triggered mines)  and could achieve total invisibility to radar and ordinary light, with the same type of technology...  For good measure, it was also claimed that the method, secretly devised by  Albert Einstein,  could also make ships and their crews dematerialize and teleport to remote locations.  Allegedly, some glitches had made human body parts fuse with the metal of the ship upon rematerialization.  This gruesome side-effect was supposedly the reason why the Government kept covering up its initial experiments  (including a whole destroyer dematerializing in Philadelphia).

It's difficult to imagine how anyone could believe such a crazy tale but it has remained popular for decades.  After many years, in 1979, the central "eyewitness" confessed to be the perpetrator of the hoax.  However, the story refused to die.  He recanted the confession and remained at the center of the delusion he had created, for the rest of his natural life.  And beyond.

This man passed away at a Colorado nursing home in 1994, under his  pen name  of  Carlos Miguel Allende (1925-1994).  His death certificate also lists what he fancied himself to be:  "Science consultant, electromagnetic force fields".  He had enlisted as a seaman half a century earlier (number 7416175) under his actual birth name,  Carl Meredith Allen.  RIP.

The True Story of the Philadelphia Experiment  (video) :  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

The Great Carlos - 1988

In 1988, the so-called channeling craze (which had began in earnest around 1972) was in full swing, spearheaded by actress Shirley MacLaine and many others.  The professional magician  James Randi  (the Amazing Randi)  was asked by  Channel 9  from Australia to debunk the whole thing (hear an interview of James Randi, also posted by the Round Earth Society).

Randi took up the challenge and taught his friend José Alvarez a few tricks to impersonate the channeler of a fictitious 35000-year old spirit dubbed "Carlos".  As it turned out, "The Great Carlos" received a lot of media attention in Australia (culminating with a show at the Sydney opera house) and eventually developed a rather large following there...  Surprisingly, many continued to believe in "Carlos" and his silly messages, even after the hoax was publicly revealed!

James Randi speaks  (video) :   The Carlos Hoax  |  Carlos Hoax Cont'd

The Sokal Hoax - 1996

In 1996, the phycisist Alan Sokal published a paper with a pompous title:

Transgressing the Boundaries
Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity

Social Text #46/47, pp. 217-252 (spring/summer 1996).

It was, in fact, a cleverly disguised [and hilarious] parody, which had only the appearance of serious scholarly work:  In the very first paragraph, Sokal criticizes the "dogma" [sic] according to which "there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being".  The rest of the paper is similarly salted with nonsense.  Yet, it suited so much what the editors of  Social Text wanted to see that they did not even blink, and Sokal's article was duly published, next to other pieces of fashionably correct prose...

The Bogdanov Affair - 2002

This controversy is about the supposedley rigorous process which takes place before scientific doctorates are awarded.  It's one thing to fool the editors of a cultural journal using scientific gibberish, like Sokal did.  It would be another thing entirely if the same tactics could be successfull with a doctoral jury...

Many people hastily talked about a "reverse Sokal hoax", when physicist Max Niedermaier first blew the whistle in an e-mail he sent to several friends around 2002-10-22.  Niedermaier himself has since apologized and recognized that the Bogdanoff brothers "genuinely believe in what they are doing".  The whole thing would probably have gone unnoticed if the Bogdanovs had not been television celebrities, but this does not make the issue go away...

Igor & Grichka Bogdanoff

The twin semioticians Igor and Grichka Bogdanoff were born in 1949, in a castle of Gascony (southwest France).  They are gifted science-fiction writers who became famous in France as hosts of their own television show (Temps X) which premiered on April 21, 1979 (it aired prime-time on TF1 from 1980 to 1990).  With the philosopher Jean Guitton (1901-1999), they coauthored a subsequent bestseller entitled "God and Science" (Dieu et la science, Grasset 1991, ISBN 2-246-42411-9).

Doctorates in mathematical physics from the French Université de Bourgogne were recently awarded to Grichka (1999-06-26) and Igor (2002-07-08).  Dr. John Baez and others (including Field medalist Alain Connes) have since reviewed both doctoral dissertations and at least four related journal articles published by the Bogdanovs:  To summarize bluntly, the latest scientific jargon is clearly there, but actual scientific substance seems to be lacking...  Or is it?

The Bogdanoff twins resumed their TV careers on October 3, 2002, weekly staging digital clones of themselves in 2-minute spots for public French television (France 2).

On 2003-09-23, Dr Arkadiusz Jadczyk wrote:
By checking links to my own site I discovered [the above] relatively balanced, and well done, review of the Bogdanov affair. [To me, this does not belong in a humor page, though.]
Let me quote [Bion and] Plutarch:  " Though the boys throw stones at the frogs in sport, yet the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest."  But I appreciate your personal perspective -- after all, the stones hit the target, and it must have been "fun!"

You have a point, Ark:  Regardless of the scientific merits of their work, the Bogdanovs didn't deserve the public ridicule they were initially submitted to.  A page  about  humor may include a few things that are not meant to be funny, including  possible  examples of unethical uses of derision.

On 2003-10-01, Arkadiusz Jadczyk wrote:   I think that's fair.  Thanks!

The Bogdanoff papers  (e.g., Grichka Bogdanov & Igor Bogdanov, 2001)  have been reviewed by Lubos Motl  (The Reference Frame2005-06-17).  Other recent reviews less ambiguously rate as "nil" the scientific value of the Bogdanov's contributions  (Bogdanov update  by Peter Woit, 2010-10-18).

Frauds & Hoaxes   |   Museum of Hoaxes   |   The Age of the Universe is a Function of Time
Web Hoaxes and Misinformation   |   Internet Frauds, Scams & Hoaxes
Cons, Fakes, Forgeries, Frauds, Grifs, Hoaxes, Rumors, Scams, Schemes, Swindles, Urban Legends

Arms of Girolamo Cardano (2006-11-17)   The day of reckoning...
Often engraved on sundials:  Omnia vulnerant, ultima necat.
(All  [hours]  hurt,  the last one kills...)

The famous algebraist and inventor  Jerôme Cardan (1501-1576) was proud of his reputation as an astrologer.  He predicted the day of his own death.  He did die on that fateful day (Sept. 21, 1576).  He may have committed suicide.

As the mathematician Abraham de Moivre (1667-1754) saw that he was sleeping 15 more minutes each day,  he extrapolated that to find the day when he'd be sleeping 24 hours a day.  He died on that day  (Nov. 27,1754).

(2002-05-26)   Funny Units
Our top picks of funny units...  [See also the serious side.]

The beauty of Helen could  launch a thousand ships.  Thus, in the  Troy  system of units, the millihelen (mHel) is the amount of beauty which can launch one ship.  Its value in natural units [natural beauty] is about 0.001098612.  A microhelen is roughly the amount of beauty required to motivate one sailor.  The symbol for the  helen  is capitalizedHel  is pronounced "hell"  [the beauty of the Devil].

On 2008-12-30, Robin Whitty wrote:   Ah - you silence me!    ;-)

The microcentury is 52 minutes and 35.76 seconds and was introduced by Enrico Fermi as the "standard" duration of a lecture period. It's equal to exactly 3155.76 s, as an exact submultiple of the scientific Julian century, which is defined to be equal to 36525 days of 86400 (SI) seconds each.

The attoparsec (apc) is the only  official  unit in this bunch; it's about an inch (1.215" or, more precisely, 3.08567758149... cm)...  Well, as they say, "Give some people an attoparsec and they'll take 16.09344 tera-ångströms."

In August 2012, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) gave the final definition of the "astronomical unit"  (au)  in metric terms as 149597870700 m.  Since a parsec is defined as the radius of a circle whose circumference is  1296000 au, an attoparsec is the radius of a circle whose circumference is  exactly  19.38788404272 cm.  Modern astronomers have thus squared the circle the same way the ancient Egyptians did  (by having separate units for the radius and the circumference of a wheel).  The following value of pi is an exact one:

p   =   9.69394202136  cm / apc

A nanoacre is exactly 4.0468564224 mm2.

The microfortnight is an FFF unit equal to 1.2096 s.  (In the RAF, this used to be called a  yonk,  according to Michael Spencer, 2011-10-03.)

The furlong per fortnight is about 2 ft per hour (0.1663 mm/s).

The millicochrane and microcochrane are submultiples of a unit of subspace distortion, named after Zefram Cochrane (2030-2117).

The above is almost as bad as some of the entries below  (or there).

10millipedes= 1centipede
3 1/3 tridents=1decadent
 0.001 ink machines =1millink machine
 0.001 on =1million
 1000 000 000 000 microphones =1megaphone

Wikipedia :   Unusual or humorous units of measurement.

(2002-05-27)   Funny prefixes & dubious proposals   [ updated yearly ]
There are no official metric prefixes above 1024 or below 10-24.
What are some proposals to remedy that?

One "proposal" which is  not  funny is the subreptitious introduction, a few years ago, of 10  bogus  prefixes  (revo, tredo, syto, fito, ento, hepa, otta, nea, dea, una)  which found their way next to legitimate ones in many  serious  summary tables floating around the Internet.  There does not seem to be any way to get rid of those, except by encouraging whoever maintains a legitimate table to flag those prefixes as  bogus.  Just removing them entirely is simply not good enough, as long as there are tables around which will look "more complete" by listing the bogus information (and thus  reproduce  faster).  We took the initiative of starting the curative debunking by putting online a reference table that's hopefully  clearly better  than previous ones, in the hope that it would look authoritative enough to anyone researching the subject on the Internet.

EPILOGUE:  The above approach caught on.  Some tables appeared which were simply based on our own vetted table, while others [ 1 | 2 ] have included a footnote with a link to this site.  Either type of "bogus" warning serves as an  erratum  for all other similar tables a websurfer may be faced with.  The above hoax has been all but eradicated.  Unfortunately, as reported below, newer schemes keep popping up which cease to be funny when they are taken seriously by people who aim to educate others  (on Wikipedia or elsewhere).

A few "proposals" gleaned (so far) for the next pair of metric prefixes :
Source1027etymology 10-27etymology
(Rick K.)
Morgan Burke
harpi  harpoMarx brother
Tamara Munzner
"many" (American
or British slang)
"minuscule" (chances
in eponymous game)
Alex López-Ortiz
(Hoax: 1996-1998)
(Greek ennea)
Ali Khounsary
(too much of them!)
e, e
(vanishingly small)
Gérard Michon
(French neuf )
(French neuf )
Jeff K. Aronson
(Hoax: 2001-2002)
X + ennea
James V. Blowers
(before 2004)
X "pattern"xonto
x "pattern"
Austin Sendek
(Joke: 2010)
"hell of"  =  very
(N. California slang)

My own "proposal" was discussed by at least one person,  Sbiis Saibian, in 2009  (I only noticed that on 2015-07-17).  Unfortunately, he misread my abbreviation for the  novo  prefix  (it's the Greek letter "nu")  and chastises me for not knowing  [!]  that the lowercase "n" is already in use for "nano".  (The mistake was due to Saibian's browser, before I used the lambda-nu test throughout  Numericana.)  Sbiis, if you read this, could you please also update your link to my  serious table?

In advocating his scheme, the Oxford clinical pharmacologist  Jeff K. Aronson  argued that the "pattern" of abbreviations Z and Y for the latest official SI prefixes should be extended backward through the alphabet, by making X, W, V and U the abbreviations of the next large prefixes (and using x, w, v and u for the next small ones).  Since the letter T is already used for tera-, the scheme would only allow 4 more pairs of prefixes...

This didn't stop Jim Blowers who made a similar independent proposal  (with slightly different names).  Blowers just assigns two-letter prefixes whenever the single-letter prefix is already used and he goes on and on, well beyond the point where those things are physically useful !  (Arguably, just one extra pair would be enough.)

Aronson advocated the names "xenna", "weka", "vendeka" and "udeka", for the larger prefixes  ("xenno", "weko", "vendeko" and "udeko" for the smaller ones).  We don't know how serious Professor Aronson  really  was about this...  Unfortunately, this is being propagated as a fait accompli, so the thing has turned into yet another  annoying  hoax.

Aronson's names for the first three prefixes are a strange merging of the letters from the bogus "pattern"  (X, W, V)  with the legitimate Greek roots for 9, 10 and 11  (ennea, deka and endeka).  This gives the scheme a fake scholarly appearance up to that point  (U is left out)  which may have enthralled unsuspecting souls.  Yet, the Aronson joke has probably not yet turned into the alledged crusade reported by a Wikipedia contributor who seemed impressed by the registering of related  domain names  (e.g., vendeka.org by Richard Ross-Langley).

Such misguided efforts will probably keep popping up until the CGPM finally adopts  something  for the next prefix pair  (preferably avoiding "X and x" to discourage extensions of the aforementioned  dubious pattern ).

"millikan-" (mkan) could be another natural name to propose for the 10-27 prefix (mkan = milli-kilo-atto-nano), which is so much needed just below yocto- (the current smallest official prefix).  The mass of an electron would thus be expressed as equal to "about 0.91 mkang". That would be a way to honor Robert A. Millikan (1868-1953) who was cursed with a name that makes it otherwise impossible to achieve the same kind of SI immortality  (deserved or not)  as Pascal, Newton, Ampère, Tesla, Weber, or Alexander Gram Bell (sic ;-)...  Either that, or we have to call a kan the charge of 1000 electrons (so each single electron would carry a millikan of charge).  For the record, this very silly idea of mine dates back to 1995, and I am almost ashamed to repeat it here.    ;-)

(2004-03-26)   The Lamppost Theory
Look under the the lamppost for there's not enough light elsewhere.

Also in the early 1990's, I coined for myself the term  Lamppost Theory  which I shared at a few cocktail parties.  Nowadays, an Internet search would reveal that a number of people apparently had the exact same idea (probably independently) to denote this very important scientific concept, which may sound so ludicrous at first...  The name comes from a classical joke:

A drunkard is looking for the keys to his house under a lamppost near his home.  A neighbor comes to the rescue and helps him search.  As they don't find anything, the neighbor begins to have doubts:

  • Are you sure you lost your keys under this lamppost ?
  • Well no, but there's no way I'll find them elsewhere; it's too dark !

The drunkard is right when it comes to scientific investigations:  Don't ever look for obscure solutions, because you can't find anything in the dark vicinity of such solutions.  If there's nothing under the lamppost, just give up.

If you're lucky, there might be a  flashlight  under some lamppost.   ;-)

It's hard to catch a black cat in a dark room,
especially if it isn't there.

(2011-10-09)   Insanity
Alternatives to orthodoxy.

A car is speeding at night through a deserted town.  The driver doesn't stop at red lights.  They have a  near miss  (which really means a  near hit)  that doesn't seem to bother the driver and the puzzled passenger is getting really scared:

-   Why don't you stop at red lights?
-   It's a tradition; we never do in our family.

Suddenly, they arrive at a green light and the driver hits the brakes...

-   Why are you stopping now?  The light is green...  Go!
-   Heck no!  My brother might be coming the other way.

(2002-11-03)   Anagrams

Build your own anagrams at www.wordsmith.org.  

  • Marriage:  A grim era.
  • Mathematics:  I'm the AMS act.
  • Clever proofs:  Recover flops.
  • Faulty proofs:  Poor lay stuff.
  • Computers:  CMOS erupt   /   Cute romps.

From the anagram page of GG Wiz:  

  • Dormitory:  Dirty room.
  • Evangelist:  Evil's agent.
  • Mother-in-law:  Woman Hitler.
  • Desperation:  A rope ends it.
  • Television:  Evil on site.
  • Astronomer:  Moon starer.
  • The Morse code:  Here come dots.
  • Snooze alarms:  Alas, no more Z's!
  • Vacation Times:  I'm not as active.
  • Clint Eastwood:  Old West action.
  • Alec Guiness:  Genuine class.
  • Margaret ThatcherThat great charmer.
  • George Bush:  He bugs Gore.
  • The Democratic Party:  Pretty chaotic dream.
  • The United States of America:  Attaineth its cause, Freedom!

A few gems from www.anagrams.net: 

  • Houses of Parliaments:  Loonies far up Thames.
  • Sears Tower :  Worst rates.
  • Hillary Clinton :  Only I can thrill.
  • Christopher Evans:  He is a rich TV person.
  • General Custer:  Cruel Sergeant.
  • Admiral Nelson:  Mainland Loser.
  • Lara CroftOral Craft.
  • Elle Macphearson:  Hall poser menace.
  • Indira Gandhi:  Hi, grand India.
  • Nelson Mandela:  Lean and solemn.
  • Los Angeles:  Legal noses.
  • St. Petersburg:  Best pert rugs.
  • The Louvre:  True hovel.
  • Guinness Draught :  Drug naughtiness.
  • Saddam Hussein:  Humans' sad side.
  • François Mitterand :  Mad strain of cretin.

(2007-08-12)   Meaningful Gibberish
The odrer of the mdlide lteters deson't rlealy mtetar.

As lnog as the fsrit and lsat lteetr of ecah wrod are trehe, polepe dno't hvae tbuorle rianedg txet at namrol seped.

(2002-10-24)   MNEMONICS
Mnemonics Neatly Eliminate Man's Only Nemesis:
Insufficient Cerebral Storage...

My Nasty Editor Might Occasionally Not Interpret Commas...

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.
[Operator Precedence: Parentheses, Exponent, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract]

FOIL : First, Outer, Inner, Last.   (a+b)(x+y)  =  ax + ay + bx + by
[The 4 terms in a expanded product of two binomials]

Important!  Very eXcellent Learning Can Demand Memorizing.
[Roman numerals: I V X L C D M]

King Hector Doesn't (Usually) Drink Cold Milk.
[Original Metric Prefixes (1793): kilo, hecto, deca, (unity), deci, centi, milli]

Dairy Cows Make Milk Not Pink Fruit, Airhead!
[Metric submultiples: deci, centi, milli, micro, nano, pico, femto, atto]

Those Girls Can Flirt And Other Queer Things Can Do.
[Mohs' scale: Talc, Gypsum, Calcite, Fluorite, Apatite, Orthoclase, Quartz, Topaz, Corundum, Diamond]

Pregnant Virgins Never Reveal the Truth
[Ideal Gas Law:   PV = nRT ]

[Redox Reactions:   Oxidation Is Loss (of electrons); Reduction Is Gain.]

Cary Grant eXpects Unanimous Votes In Movie Reviews.
[Electromagnetic spectrum, highest frequency first:  Cosmic rays, Gamma rays, X-rays, Ultraviolet, Visible, Infrared, Microwaves, Radio waves]

My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets.  (1930-2006)
[Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto] 
Mon vieux, tu m'as jetté sur une nouvelle planète.  (1930-2006)
[Mercure, Vénus, Terre, Mars, Jupiter, Saturne, Uranus, Neptune, Pluton]

I eat green carrots   [ Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto ]
Galilean moons of Jupiter  (3 mistresses of Zeus and his Trojan cup-bearer).

Roy G. Biv   (Richard Of York Gave Battle in Vain)
[Colors of the Rainbow:  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet]

Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me!  (Right Now Sweetheart!)
by  Henry Norris Russell
[Harvard Spectral Classification Scheme: O, B, A, F, G, K, M, (R, N, S) ...]

Oh My, Such Great Apple Pie!  (Sweet As Sugar!)   Dicarboxylic acids:  Oxalic, malonic, succinic, glutaric, adipic, pimelic  (suberic, azelaic, sebacic).

Ho He!
Lili Becta Bien Chez Notre Oncle François Nestor.
Napoléon Mangea Allègrement Six Poulets Sans Clamser Après.
[French mnemonic for chemical elements.]

Numerical values and constrained writing

Count the number of letters in each word to obtain each digit of the number.  (A ten-letter word represents a zero digit.)

  • c = 299792458 m/s   [= Speed of Light = Einstein's Constant]
    - My ingenious astronomy student remembers an easy light mnemonic.
    - We guarantee certainty, clearly referring to this light mnemonic.
  • e = 2.718281828459045235360287471352662497757247...
    - By omnibus, I traveled to Brooklyn.
    [271828 -- David Mage] 
    - It enables a numskull to memorize a quantity of numerals.
    [2718281828 -- Gene Widhoff] 
    - I'm forming a mnemonic to remember a function in analysis.
    [2718281828 -- Maxey Brooke] 
    - It repeats: A constant of calculus, a constant of calculus.
    [2718281828 -- Jeffrey Strehlow] 
    - To distrupt a playroom is commonly a practice of children.
    [2718281828 -- Joseph J Guiteras] 
    - To express e, remember to memorize a sentence to simplify this.
    [27182818284 -- John L. Greene] 
    - We require a mnemonic to remember e whenever we scribble math texts.
    [271828182845 -- Joona Palaste (of Helsinki; 2004-11-07 e-mail)]
  • p = 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751...
    - Yes, I have a number.  [31416]
    - How I wish I could calculate Pi nearly right.  [314159265]
    - See, I have a rhyme assisting my feeble brain.  [314159265]
    - May I have a large container of coffee?  Thank you. [3141592653] 
    - Our own update  (2003-11-04)  to a well-known classic:
      [The first two verses are attributed to Sir James Jeans (1877-1946).] 
    How I want a drink, alcoholic of course,
    After the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.
    All of thy geometry, Herr Planck, is fairly hard,
    And thy calculus may be forever unearthly tough

    - Cadaeic Cadenza (& comments) by Mike Keith, © 1996.  [3835 digits]

A short poem by Joseph Shipley  (1960):
But a time I spent wandering in bloomy night;
Yon tower, tinkling chimewise, loftily opportune.
Out, up, and together came sudden to Sunday rite,
The one solemnly off to correct plenilune.

Famous French Poem:  The following four verses were published by  Edouard Lucas (1842-1891)  in  Récréations mathématiques  (vol. II):
Que j'aime à faire apprendre un nombre utile aux sages !
Immortel Archimède, antique ingénieur,
Qui de ton jugement peut sonder la valeur ?
Pour moi ton problème eut de pareils avantages.

This quatrain was reprinted on August 5, 1906 by  The Academy,  a London literary magazine which challenged its readers to come up with English equivalents  (they were in short supply at the time).  The first verse, at least, used to be taught to French schoolchildren.  The last verse is a personal parallel between the little-known approximation of  p  due to Lucas himself  (0.26 Ö146)  and what Archimedes came up with  (22/7).  This was generally considered too arcane and verses 3 and 4 have since been replaced by better ones...  Several extended variants exist, which differ very little from the following one:

Que j'aime à faire connaître ce nombre utile aux sages !
Immortel Archimède, antique ingénieur,
Toi de qui Syracuse loue encore la gloire,
Soit ton nom conservé par de savants grimoires.
Jadis mystérieux, un problème existait
Dans l'admirable édifice, l'oeuvre grandiose,
Que Pythagore découvrit aux anciens Grecs.
Ô quadrature !   Vieux tourment du philosophe !
Insoluble rondeur, trop longtemps vous avez
Défié Pythagore et ses imitateurs:
Comment arpenter l'espace plan circulaire
Valant un polygone mesuré en superficie ?
Approche innovante:  Archimède envisage
Cercle et polygone approchant une aire
Inscrite en excès.  Son plan de s'y réduire
Dédoublera chaque élément antérieur.
Résultat de l'idée ancienne curviligne,
Laquelle limite donne l'arc, la longueur
De cet inquiétant cercle, ennemi trop rebelle.
Professeur, enseignez ses méthodes avec zèle !

This gives p (Pi) to 126 decimals (127 digits in 127 words).  The first  quatrain  is beautiful and worth memorizing  (it's perfectly metered and features some rhyming).  The other stanzas are less than perfect...

Phonetic Numerical Mnemonics  (Hérigone's System)

Endearing as it may be, the above method of encoding one digit per word isn't quite practical:  Once you have memorized a sentence, it takes a while to retrieve the corresponding digits by counting the letters in each word...

A more efficient approach was invented by the French mathematician Pierre Hérigone (1580-1643)  who had the idea of assigning consonants to every digit  (like-sounding consonants being assigned to the same digit).

Different versions of Hérigone's system were subsequently devised and revised by several people, starting with Johann Just Winckelmann (1620-1699) in 1648.  Leibniz drew some inspiration from Winkelmann's code for his own scheme of writing all languages phonetically.  In 1806, a German monk from Salem  (near Konstanz)  Gregor von Feinaigle,  started to make a name for himself with his own version of Hérigone's system, which he demonstrated brilliantly  (along with the rest of his mnemonic methods)  at lectures in Paris, in 1807 and 1811.

Alan Krill believes that a misunderstood reference to Feinagle's mnemonics in Lord Byron's  Don Juan  (1818)  may have been the origin of the word  finagle, which eventually acquired a pejorative meaning in the 1920's to describe all sorts of deceitful methods.

The modern version of Hérigone's system, presented below, was perfected around 1820 by the Frenchman  Aimé Paris  whose book on mnemonics was re-edited many times  (Principes et applications diverses de la mnemonique, 7th ed., Paris, 1834).  In English, that code became known as  The Major System  in the 1840's, because it was popularized from London by a Polish refugee known as  Major  Beniowski  (Handbook of Phrenotypics, 1845).

This system can be used, in English or other Indo-European languages, to associate "striking" words or sentences with important numbers  (dates, security codes, telephone numbers, etc).  In the 1970's, it was advocated for that purpose by the memory artist Harry Lorayne (1926-).

   0      1       2      3       4      5       6      7       8      9      none  
s (c)
d (th)
mr lch, sh
j (g)
k (c)
g (q)
w, h, y

Arthur T. Benjamin presents one dubious sentence to memorize the first 24 digits of  p  with that code  (vowels and unlisted consonants are discarded):

My turtle Pancho will,  my love, pick up  my new mover Ginger.
3.14159  2 65   35 89  7 9 323   8 4 6 26 4

 Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal 
 by Zach Weiner

See also...

Science Jokes > 11. Mnemonics > 11.2 Mathematics  |  11.4 Physics.

L'univers de p (in French)  by Boris Gourévitch.

(2002-10-27)   Acronyms
Silly acronyms, or alternate interpretations for established ones.

See also below for acronyms [supposedly] used in computerized chats and/or Internet posts.  The following ones do not fall into that category:

ACRONYM:  Abbreviated Coded Rendition Of Name Yielding Meaning.

BAD:  Broken As Designed.

DAP:  Parents Against Dyslexia [sic].

PCMCIA: People Can't Memorize Computer Industry Acronyms.  [Glenn Shaw]  (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association)

TLA: Three-Letter Acronym.

TTP: The TTP Project.  [Engineering classic, submitted by Tony Dercola]
More precisely, TTP stands for:  The "The TTP Project" Project...  (In the comic strip of Scott Adams, that's whatever Dilbert is working on.)

Other such recursive acronyms have  actually  been used.  When the recursion is placed on the first letter  (instead of the second one, as in  TTP)  that first letter is totally arbitrary.  The best known example is GNU (GNU's Not Unix)  which was the model for naming the defunct GNE (GNE Non-Encyclopedia)  formerly called  GNUPedia  (which was, arguably, one of the two precursors of  Wikipedia).

Some Usenet-Related Acronyms

Acronym MeaningComments
(see also...)
2U2To you too  
AFAIKAs far as I know  
A/S/L?[What is your] age, sex & location?  
ATOAssume the opposite...   [Introducing a proof by contradiction.]
AWGTHTGTTA?Are we going to have to go through this again? CERN 98
BRBBe right back    
BTWBy the way...  
DNODo not open.     [Message is entirely in the subject line...]
DYTDo you think [that...]  
FYIFor your information  
GAGo ahead  (obsolete way to end your turn, in a 2-way exchange)
GLGood luck!  
HFHave fun!  
HTHHope this helps   
IIRCIf I recall correctly  
IITYWIMIWHTKYIf I tell you what it means, I will have to kill you... CERN 98
IITYWIMWYBMADIf I tell you what it means, will you buy me a drink? CERN 98
IMHOIn my humble opinion(IMO) 
IMOIn my opinion(IMHO) 
J/KJust kidding  
KISSKeep It Simple, Stupid Occam's Razor
LOLLaugh(ing) out loud   
OMGOh, my God!  
OPOriginal poster—or post  [the origin of a Usenet thread]
OTOHOn the other hand(OTTH) 
OTTHOn the third hand(OTOH) 
POVPoint of view  
SODDISome other dude did it  Sister Share
TANSTAAFLThere ain't no such thing as a free lunch Sister Share
TILToday, I learned [that...] Reddit
TTFNTa Ta For Now www.acronymfinder.com
WBRWith best regards  
YMMVYour mileage may varyIndicates an experimental
quantity as elusive as
a car's fuel efficiency.
YMWVYour mileage will vary
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