## Posts tagged ‘grammar’

### If Jack Handey Were a Math Guy

In our old neighborhood, we had the Heidelberg Bakery, which we loved for cupcakes, Bavarian pretzels, and challah. But I really wish it were named the Heisenberg Bakery instead, so that one of the employees could have said to me:

Sorry, I can tell you the status of your order, or I can tell you the location of your order — but not both!

I went to a geometry lecture last night on circles that was fascinating. But it lasted two hours longer than expected, because the speaker kept going off on a tangent.

Math is everywhere, even English class, where there are add‑verbs, add‑jectives, and conjunctions.

But math really is in English class; you can use proportions to find the past tense of flew:

Sure, they say that the moon is made of cheese, but I prefer to think that it’s made of crust and filling. Then it’d be π in the sky!

To get from point A to point B, a mathematician takes a rhom‑bus.

Math for the Office:
1/2 hour of productivity + 7 1/2 hours on the internet = 1 good day at work!

The Math of Diets:
2 cheeseburgers + 46 fries + 1 diet soda = 1 totally healthy meal!

Square box. Round pizza. Triangular slices. WTF?

Today’s Special: Buy one cheeseburger for the price of two, and receive a second cheeseburger absolutely free!

I’m worried about that man over there drawing on graph paper. I think he’s plotting something.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
Because math is terrifying.

If I had a dozen strips of bacon, and you took four of them, what would you have?
That’s right. You’d have a black eye.

### The Weird I Before E Rule

I’ve always hated the I before E except after C rule. My hatred is simple: a rule is a “prescribed direction for conduct,” and, as far as I’m concerned, it should be accurate very close to 100% of the time.

The Triangle Inequality? That’s a rule that always works.

The sum of the angles of a triangle? It’s 180°, 100% of the time.

Ceva’s Theorem? Completely worthless, to be sure, but also completely correct.

But the I before E rule? I wasn’t sure how often it was inaccurate, but it only took a few seconds to come up with myriad counterexamples:

• weird
• science
• neighbor
• rein
• pricier
• deficient
• eight

That’s the thing, right? Math rules always work. Else we wouldn’t call them rules. But grammarians, philosophers, artists — pretty much anyone with a liberal arts degree — will call anything a rule that works some of the time.

So with some help from MoreWords, I created the following Venn diagram:

Let me ‘splain. No, wait… that would take too long. Let me sum up.

There are 5,443 words that contain either EI or IE. Of those,

• 3,562 correctly contain IE not following C
• 62 correctly contain EI following C

That is, of the 5,443 words containing EI or IE, 1,591 words violate the rule by having EI without a C in front of it, and 162 words violate the rule by having IE with a C in front of it.

Which is to say, only 66.6% of the words that contain either EI or IE adhere to the rule I before E except after C.

Put another way, the rule is total bullshit.

These numbers are consistent with an analysis from Language Log, which looked at about 8.7 million words randomly pulled from a month of the NY Times. It was found that 174,716 words contained EI or IE, but only 114,070 words correctly followed the rule, which means the rule held about 65% of the time.

One of the readers of Language Log commented that the rule works with the following amendment:

When the sound is long E,
it’s I before E,
except after C.

I’ll call bullshit.

I didn’t even have to think to come up with a list of words for which that modified rule fails:

• seize
• leisure
• either
• neither
• protein

Speaking of rules…

Philosophy is a game with objectives and no rules.
Mathematics is a game with rules and no objectives.
— Anonymous

Mathematics is a game played according to certain simple rules with meaningless marks on paper.
— David Hilbert

### 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 www.metal-archives.com 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.

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.

### QRack the CODE on this Qrossword

My eighth-grade English teacher told us, “You must learn the rules of grammar. They are very important, and you can not feel comfortable breaking them until you thoroughly understand them.” I believe this philosophy also applies to crossword puzzles. Typically, crossword puzzles must be constructed so that the grid is rotationally symmetric. Recently, I created a crossword puzzle, but I had a very good reason for violating the symmetry rule, so I did.

I now present the puzzle for your enjoyment. Enjoy.

QRack the CODE Qrossword Puzzle

Many mathy folks enjoy crossword puzzles. But in case you’re visiting just for the jokes and have no interest in crossword puzzles, here are a couple of jokes for you (crossword-related, of course).

A gentleman heard a rumor that the Pope might be taking the same flight to Italy. He thought, “This is great! I’ve been a Catholic my whole life, and I might get to meet the Pope!”

The man takes his seat. A few minutes later, the Pope sits in the seat next to him. Shortly after take-off, the Pope pulls out a crossword puzzle. After a few minutes, the Pontiff turns to the man and says, “Excuse me, sir. Do you know a four-letter word for ‘woman’ that ends U-N-T?”

The man thought for a few seconds. “Your Holiness,” he said, “I think the word you’re looking for is AUNT.”

“Oh, of course,” said the Pope. “Do you have an eraser?”

The following crossword joke could easily be modified for a plane geometry class.

Showing his map of attractions to a local, the tourist said, “Sir, I understand that a shrine to the creator of the crossword puzzle is near here. Do you know how to get there?”

The local pointed to a spot on the map. “You’re here,” he said. “The shrine is three down and four across.

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.