## Let Me Translate For You

As any student of algebra will tell you, sometimes translating words to equations is harder than the actual math. For instance, the following limerick looks like a real bear:

A dozen, a gross, and a score,
Plus three times the square root of four,
Divided by seven,
Plus five times eleven,
Equals nine squared and not a bit more.

It’s a mouthful to read, but once you translate it to the equation below, you recognize that it is perfectly true.

This poem was written by Leigh Mercer, a panhandling palindromist who earned money by drawing sidewalk caricatures. He is also the one who gave us the famous palidrome, “A man, a plan, a canal — Panama!” Although the poem above is often attributed to math textbook author John Saxon, it originally appeared in Games Magazine long before Saxon ever put it in a textbook.

What can be more difficult than translating language to an equation is doing the opposite — taking an equation and figuring out the text from which it was derived. For instance, the equation 21x = 63 could correspond to the problem, “Walter Melon has 21 bags, each with the same number of apples, and all together he has 63 apples. How many apples are in each bag?” Or, it could correspond to, “How many dice do you have if there are a total of 63 pips?”

The following are some equations that were generated from quotations by famous people. Can you determine the original quotes and identify the authors?

1. Humor = Tragedy + Time
2. Success = Work + Play + Keeping Your Mouth Shut
3. Necessities ≠ Wants
4. lim (time → infinity) Lovetake = Lovemake
5. Hesitation / Risk = Age
6. Man = What He Has Done + What He Can Do + 0
7. Results ∝ Effort
8. Action = –Reaction
9. Goals – Doubts = Reality
10. Vlife ∝ Courage
11. History = Σ(Things That Could Have Been Avoided)

Original Quotes

1. “Humor is tragedy plus time.”  – Mark Twain
2. “If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut.” – Albert Einstein
3. “Our necessities never equal our wants.” – Benjamin Franklin
4. “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” – Paul McCartney
5. “Hesitation increases in relation to risk in equal proportion to age.” – Ernest Hemingway
6. “A man is the sum of his actions, of what he has done, of what he can do — nothing else.” – John Galsworthy
7. “The results you achieve will be in direct proportion to the effort you apply.” – Denis Waitley
8. “Action and reaction are equal and opposite.” – Gertrude Stein
10. “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” – Anais Nin
11. “History is the sum total of all things that could have been avoided.” – Konrad Adenauer

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

• 1. xander  |  May 20, 2011 at 12:11 am

I came to mathematics by a rather strange route. It started in Russian studies, passed through anthropology for a while, and finally settled into mathematics after spending a few years teaching typing and spreadsheets to ankle-biters.

I would like to think that this gave me an appreciation not just for mathematics, but for good writing and story telling. When I did my student teaching a while back, I asked my students to do something very similar to the above—I gave them a set of equations, and asked them to write a story, poem, or something else that fit the equations.

I’m looking forward to showing future students some of these examples.

• 2. venneblock  |  May 24, 2011 at 10:57 am

Any chance you could share some of those poems or stories written by your students? I get the general idea of what you’re saying, but I’d like more details about the assignment, and I’d love to see what your students came up with!

• 3. xander  |  May 24, 2011 at 11:23 am

Unfortunately, my lead instructor kept most of them, and I didn’t think far enough ahead to take photographs of what was turned in (most of the students gave me some very large posters). I may have one or two project filed away somewhere—if I can dig them up, I would be more than happy to share.

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

## MJ4MF (offline version)

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.