18 New Math Terms for Lingweenies

September 6, 2011 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

Have you met a mathemagician? Even if you haven’t, you’ve no doubt heard this neologism that many math educators are using to descirbe themselves.

  • math·e·ma·gi·ci·an
    noun
    1. a mathematician who practices magic
    2. a mathematician or math educator who thinks that what he does with numbers is magical
    3. a person who believes that neither doing magic nor doing math is, by itself, quite dorky enough

I love words, and I love math. But personally, mathemagician is a neologism I could have done without.

On the other hand, there are some coined words that deserve special praise. Rich Hall is the undisputed king of neologicians — in the mid-1980’s, Hall hosted a segment on the monthly HBO series Not Necessarily the News entirely dedicated to sniglets.

  • snig·let
    noun
    any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should

Hall coined many sniglets, and viewers of the show submitted others. Sniglets became so popular that they led to five books (one for children), a game, and a sniglet-a-day calendar.

My favorite sniglet was mega-nega-bar.

  • meg·a-neg·a-bar
    noun
    the line you put after the written amount on a check, to prevent someone from adding “and one million dollars”

Though not one of Hall’s sniglets, the following self-referential neologism deserves a gold star, too.

  • ling·wee·nie
    noun
    a person incapable of producing neologisms

Why all this talk of made-up words? You can blame the good folks at the The Daily Post, who presented Topic #230:

Make up a word and its definition.

Admittedly, this post comes a few days late, as the 230th day of the year was August 25. But the topic is one worth exploring, as there are many new terms that aren’t in math dictionaries, but perhaps they should be. (Or maybe not.)

The following list contains neologisms that you should feel free to use in daily conversation and at cocktail parties, especially if your audience consists of people who understand the statement, “The kernel of the adjoint of a linear transformation is both the annihilator space of the image of the transformation and also the dual space of the quotient of the space of which the image is a subspace by the image subspace.”

  • mal·e·frac·tion
    noun
    an illegal mathematical move when working with rational numbers, such as dividing by 0 or assuming that a/b + c/d = (a + b)/(c + d)
  • in·fin·ish
    adjective
    almost, but not quite, without bound
  • trig·gle
    noun
    a laugh that follows a joke in trigonometry class, like when the teacher asks, “What is the sine of 40?” and a student responds, “Saying things like, ‘When I was your age…'”
  • Mö·bi·us trip
    noun
    a vacation that only requires a one-way ticket
  • bi·sec·tu·al
    noun
    a person who divides things into two parts
  • tan·gen·tle·man
    noun
    a learned male who has frequent digressions
  • al·ge-ca·da·bra
    noun
    the exclamation made before the magical moment of solving an algebra problem
  • win·ter·val
    noun
    any period of bitter coldness, such as September through July in North Dakota
  • phe·nom·i·na·tor
    noun
    any of the recurring numbers that often serve as least common denominators, especially the two-digit numbers 24, 36, 48, 72, and 96 that appear regularly in the answers to fraction exercises of middle school math textbooks
  • pter·a·frac·tal
    noun
    a self-similar geometric shape that has become extinct (or is, at least, out of fashion)
  • com·mo·di·an
    noun
    the common value of the mode and median in a data set (for sets in which the mode and median are equal)
  • tri·gan·gle
    noun
    a group of three-sided objects
  • con·triv·i·al
    adjective
    friendly and jovial but also irrelevant
  • per·pen·dic·u·lous
    adjective
    deserving of contempt because it feels so right
  • squad·rant
    noun
    a math department consisting of 600 geometricians
  • re·cip·ro·cool
    adjective
    containing enough awesomeness that it makes you flip
  • neo·log·a·rith·m
    noun
    a new math term
  • mon·gro·nom·i·al
    noun
    an unfriendly algebraic expression involving only one term, such as 323 ugly7

Of course, no list of new words would be very effective without examples. The following sentences use several of the neologisms above.

Just before dividing his assistant in two, the bisectual mathemagician proclaimed, “Alge-cadabra!”

Though a contrivial tangentleman, the senior member of the squadrant often threw perpendiculous parties.

It’s not uncommon for students to commit malefractions, especially when a problem does not involve a phenominator.

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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.

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