## Posts tagged ‘Lewis Carroll’

### Mathy Portmanteaux

The term *portmanteau* was first used by Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s *Through the Looking Glass*:

Well, ‘slithy’ means “lithe and slimy” and ‘mimsy’ is “flimsy and miserable.” You see, it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.

Interestingly, the word *portmanteau* itself is also a blend of two different words: *porter* (to carry) and *manteau* (a cloak).

Portmanteaux are extremely popular in modern-day English, and new word combinations are regularly popping up. Sometimes, perhaps, there are **too many** being coined. In fact, one author refers to these newcomers as *portmonsters*, a portmanteau of, well, *portmanteau* and *monster* that attempts to capture how grotesque some of these beasts are. An abridged list of portmonsters would include *sharknado*, *arachnoquake*, *blizzaster*, *snowpocalypse*, *Brangelina*, *Bennifer*, *Kimye*, *Javanka*, *fantabulous*, and *ridonkulous*.

Portmanteaux seem to proliferate most easily in B-movie titles, weather, and celebrity couples, but the world of math and science is not free from them. Here are a few mathy portmanteaux, presented, of course, as equations.

**ginormous** = *giant* + *enormous*, really big

**guesstimate** = *guess* + *estimate*, a reasonable speculation

**three-peat** = *three* + *repeat*, to win a championship thrice

**clopen set** = *closed* + *open set*, a topological space that is both open and closed

**b****it** = *binary* + *digit*, the smallest unit of measurement used to quantify computer data

**pixel** = *picture* + *element*, a small area on a display screen; many can combine to form an image

**voxel** = *volume* + *pixel*, the 3D analog to pixel

**fortnight** = *fourteen* + *night*, a period of two weeks

**parsec** = *parallax* + *second*, an astronomy unit equal to about 3.26 light years

**alphanumeric** = *alphabetical* + *numeric*, containing both letters and numerals

**sporabola** = *spore* + *parabola*, the trajectory of a basidiospore after it is discharged from a sterigma

**gerrymandering** = *Elbridge Gerry* + *salamander*, to draw districts in such a way as to gain political advantage (In the 1800’s, Governor Elbridge Gerry redrew districts in Massachusetts to his political benefit. One of the redrawn districts looked like a salamander.)

**megamanteau** = *mega* + *portmanteau*, a portmanteau containing more than two words, such as DelMarVa, a peninsula that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean and includes parts of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia

**meganegabar** = *mega* + *negative* + *bar*, the line used on a check so that someone can’t add “and one million” to increase the amount

(By the way, when Rutgers University invited *Jersey Shore* cast member Snooki Polizzi to speak to students on campus in 2011, they paid her $32,000, which is $2,000 more than they paid Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison to deliver a commencement address six weeks later.)

### Math in Great Literature

I’ve been reading a lot recently. And not just math books. In fact, I just finished reading a book on antigravity — I couldn’t put it down.

Though the books I’ve been reading are known as great literature, they have a lot of great math, too. From Lewis Carroll, we have the following gem…

The four branches of arithmetic are ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision.

But let’s not forget about A. A. Milne, who didn’t write the following joke based on improper logical thinking, though he easily could have…

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet receive a box from Eeyore. In the box are 10 sweets and a note. The note says that they are to divide the sweets evenly — 7 for Pooh, and 7 for Piglet. “How is that possible?” asks Piglet.

“I don’t know,” replies Pooh. “I don’t even want to think about it. But I’ve already eaten my 7 sweets.”

And speaking of that tubby, little cubby all stuffed with fluff…

What is Winnie the Pooh’s favorite math subject?

Tiggernometry.

### Statistically Speaking…

My favorite quote from Lewis Carroll happens to be one of my favorite quotes:

If you want to inspire confidence, give plenty of statistics. It does not matter that they should be accurate, or even intelligible, as long as there is enough of them.

Here are a few statistical facts worth noting:

One of every four mathy folks suffers from mental illness. Now, think of three calculating friends. If they’re okay, then it’s you.

Fifty percent of Americans have an understanding of statistics that is below average.

69.8724% of all statistics reflect an unjustified level of precision, and 83.85% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

There are two kinds of statistics — the kind you look up, and the kind you make up.

There are three kinds of statisticians — normal, deviant, and skew.