Posts tagged ‘limerick’

Mo’ Math Limericks

I’ve posted limericks to this blog before. Quite a few, in fact.

But a friend recently sent me The Mathematical Magpie, a collection of math essays, stories and poems assembled by Clifton Fadiman and published by Simon and Schuster in 1962. Coincidentally, one section of the book is titled Comic Sections, the name of a mathematical joke book written by Des MacHale in 1993. (I contacted Professor MacHale several years ago, and he suggested that we swap books. Best. Trade. Ever.) Des MacHale is Emeritus Professor at the University of Cork, a mere 102 km from Limerick, Ireland… which brings us full circle to today’s topic.

The Mathematical Magpie contains quite a few limericks, one of which you have likely heard before:

There was a young lady named Bright,
Who traveled much faster than light.
She started one day
In the relative way,
And returned on the previous night.

Despite a variety of other claims, that limerick was written by Professor A. H. Reginald Buller, F.R.S., a biologist who received £2 when the poem was published in Punch, and he “was more excited at the check than he was later when his book on fungi was published.”

You may not, however, be familiar with Professor Buller’s follow-up limerick about Miss Bright:

To her friends said the Bright one in chatter,
“I have learned something new about matter:
As my speed was so great
Much increased was my weight,
Yet I failed to become any fatter!”

Here are a few other limericks that appear in The Mathematical Magpie:

There was an old man who said, “Do
Tell me how I’m to add two and two?
I’m not very sure
That it doesn’t make four —
But I fear that is almost too few.
Anon.

The topologist’s mind came unguided
When his theories, some colleagues derided.
Out of Möbius strips
Paper dolls he now snips,
Non-Euclidean, closed, and one-sided.
Hilbert Schenck, Jr.

A mathematician named Ray
Says extraction of cubes is child’s play.
You don’t need equations
Or long calculations
Just hot water to run on the tray.
L. A. Graham

Flappity, floppity, flip!
The mouse on the Möbius strip.
The strip revolved,
The mouse dissolved
In a chronodimensional skip.
Frederick Winsor

And though it’s not a limerick, this one is just too good not to include for your enjoyment:

A diller, a dollar,
A witless trig scholar
On a ladder against a wall.
If length over height
Gives an angle too slight,
The cosecant may prove his downfall.
L. A. Graham

Finally, I leave you with a MJ4MF original:

With my head in an oven
And my feet on some ice,
I’d say that, on average,
I feel rather nice!

Got any math poems or limericks you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them!

Math Limerick Problems

Albert Einstein said that “pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” That may or may not be true, but all I know is that math poems are pretty awesome.

There are lots of math limericks on the web. One of my favorites:

A topologist’s child was quite hyper,
Till it wore a Möbius diaper.
The mess on the inside
Was thus on the outside,
And it was easy for someone to wipe her.

Fred Tofts, who claims to not be a mathematician but loves mathematics, recently shared a different kind of math limerick with MJ4MF. His five-line creation was not meant to deliver a punch line; rather, it presented a problem. As a comment to my blog interview with Colin Adams, he wrote, “I have not written any math jokes but have written many math limericks,” and then shared the following:

A dog’s at one end of a log;
At the opposite end is a frog.
Six feet from the frog
And eight feet from the dog
Is a right angle. How long’s the log?

I do hope that the good Mr. Tofts will share a few more of his creations with us!

The following is more of a truth than a puzzle, but fun nonetheless.

Pick a number 1 to 9, I plea,
Then multiply by 15,873.
And again times seven,
The product to leaven;
Your number will repeat six times — you’ll see.

Do you have any math limerick problems worth sharing?

Math Haiku and Limericks

Haiku have 17 syllables, right? Nope. They actually have 17 morae. Don’t know what a mora is? Don’t worry; neither do most linguists.

I find the 5-7-5 structure of haiku too restrictive, and apparently Roger McGough does, too.

The only problem
with haiku is you just get
started and then
~ Roger McGough

And Daniel Mathews thinks the structure is problematic for writing math haiku.

Maths haikus are hard
All the words are much too big
Like homeomorphic.
~ Daniel Mathews

Limericks are a little more forgiving. With five lines in an AABBA pattern, you have a little more time to develop a story. Or not.

There was a young man from Peru
Whose limericks stopped at line two.

If you’re at a cocktail party, and you want to deliver the following one-liner, you better set it up with the two-liner above.

There was a young man from Verdun.

“Then there’s the one about the Emperor Nero,” quipped poets Elliott Moreton and Carl Muckenhoupt.

Personally, I think it’s pretty fun to turn traditional poetry rules on their ear. Here is a tradition-busting limerick for you.

A poet through efforts concerted
Ignored all the rules
He learned in the schools
And wrote all his limericks inverted.

And lest haiku feel neglected as a poetic form, here’s an abomination of that type, too.

The last line goes here.
It’s still 5-7-5, but…
Haiku inverted.

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.