Archive for April 1, 2013

Fishin’ for an April Fools Math Joke

My friend and former boss Jim Rubillo sent me the following email last night:

I am cleaning, and I found this book that you might want: One Million Random Numbers in Ascending Order. Do you want it, or should I throw it away?

Seemed like an odd book, and I thought he might have gotten the title wrong since RAND Corporation published A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates in 1955. (Incidentally, you should visit that book’s page on, where you’ll find many fantastic reviews, such as, “Once you’ve read it from start to finish, you can go back and read it in a different order, and it will make just as much sense as your original read!” from Bob the Frog, and, “…with so many terrific random digits, it’s a shame they didn’t sort them, to make it easier to find the one you’re looking for,” from A Curious Reader.)

Knowing that Jim is a stats guy, it seemed plausible. A little confused, I wrote back:

Is it literally just a list of random numbers? If so, I’ll pass. But if there’s something more interesting about it, then maybe?

His response?

It’s a sequel to The Complete Book of Even Primes.

And so it goes, with April Fools even afflicting the math jokes world.

Thank goodness he didn’t tape a fish to my back.

April 1, 2013 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

5 Common Grammar Errors

Math sucks. And I don’t mean that in the same way that Jimmy Buffett means it.

I mean, it really sucks. Math is completely devoid of humor. It’s like 7-Up — never had it, never will.

Writing these posts is a grind. Trying to find the funny in math is like trying to find a talented ballet dancer in Camden, New Jersey.

So, I’m officially done with math humor. Henceforth, the Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog will focus entirely on the humor in language.1 Now, there’s a subject that just begs to be made fun of! Someday, when I get the gumption, I’ll officially change the name to something clever, like Grammar Jokes 4 Grammatical Folks or Words 4 Weenies.

But for now, it remains Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, and you’ll just have to tolerate the misnomer.

How’s this for a segue? Have you noticed that people ignore the rules of grammar almost as often as they ignore the rules of algebra? When I taught middle school, the same kid who claimed that (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 was also the one who asked me if I was “being haved.” (As in, the progressive form of behave after it had been dissected into be and have. Ostensibly, haved is an adjective synonymous with good.)

To demonstrate, here are five common grammar errors. For each, I am deferring to higher authorities — web comics such as The Oatmeal, Savage Chickens, and Urban Blah, who can provide better examples than I. (Or, at least, who have done the work of creating such examples long before I thought to do so.)

Literally. Leave it to a metalhead on to write something as dumb as, “…when I heard that [Benighted] would be releasing a new album, I literally had to get a 3.7 kW submersible dewatering pump to drain the drool that had accumulated.”

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised by grammatical missteps on a site promoting bands with names like Pig Axe, Putrefying Cadaverment, and my personal favorite Bowelf**k. (I wish I were making that up.)

As it turns out, some noteworthy grammarians have accepted literally as an adjective that can mean virtually or absolutely. But I tend to side with Daryl L. L. Houston, who wrote:

My knee-jerk reaction remains to sneer at mis(?)use of “literally.” It’s one of those things I’ve sneered at for long enough that it’s a hard habit to break.

Both The Oatmeal and xkcd have something to say about this one.

Irregardless. My father’s favorite word. With prefix ir- (not) and suffix -less (not), this is a double negative that should mean “in regard to.” Alas, it is used as a synonym for regardless, and I can’t hear it without bristling.

I could ramble about this one all night, but Urban Blah is far more succinct (and eloquent) in expressing my position.

Double Negatives. See irregardless above. But also see not uncommon, don’t know nothing, and Toothpaste for Dinner.

They’re / Their / Their. Where are all the directors? They’re over there in their meeting. The Oatmeal classifies the misuse of these homonyms as misspellings, but I think they should be described as misthinkings.

Ellipsis. You want to build melancholy in a novel? The ellipsis is your friend. You want an email correspondent to know that you were thinking while penning a missive? The ellipsis is your nemesis. Show you were thinking by not overusing a grammatical element that conveys a deliberate omission.

If you can’t figure this one out, maybe the Savage Chickens can help you.

1 April Fools. Check back tomorrow for some new (but still not funny) math stuff.

April 1, 2013 at 4:01 am Leave a comment

About MJ4MF

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.

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April 2013

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