## Posts tagged ‘OED’

### Read This Post… Then 86 It

Last week, I was riding train 86 to Philadelphia for business travel. A young coworker was on the same train, and when I mentioned that such a train number seemed inauspicious, she stared at me with a blank look.

“You know, like Maxwell Smart’s agent number,” I said.

Still nothing.

“Like ‘to discard’ or ‘to put the kibosh on’?” I suggested.

Perhaps I’m just too old.

There are many theories as to the derivation of using the number 86 as a verb.

Cecil from The Straight Dope suggests that it derives from a number code used by restaurants in the 1920’s. It supposedly meant, “We’re all out of that,” and it was often the response of a chef or maitre’d when asked by a server for a particular item. Cecil had this to say:

Why 86 and not, say, the square root of 2? The most plausible explanation I’ve heard is that 86 is rhyming slang for “nix.”

The Oxford English Dictionary tentatively states “it seems that” this rhyming etymology is plausible. But with nothing more than an “it seems that” from the OED, this should be considered nothing more than a vague theory.

Some things to know about 86:

• Not coincidentally, there are 86 days left in 2012.
• 8610 = 2226
• 286 is the largest known power of 2 that contains no zeroes
• 86 = 32 + 42 + 52 + 62

A little research found that other numbers have been used to mean other things:
99: The manager is on the prowl.
98: The assistant manager is on the prowl.
87½: Take a look at that babe over there.
82: I need a glass of water.
68: You gimme one, and I’ll owe ya. (Thanks, George Carlin!)
55: Can I have a root beer, please?
48: All hell breaks loose.
33: Can I have a Cherry Coke, please?
19: Can I have a banana split, please?
13: Throw it in the trash can.
13: To die.
6: A smooth transaction.

### 5 New (Mathy) Words from the OED

The OED is the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s largest dictionary of the English language (though not, however, the world’s largest dictionary — that distinction belongs to the Dutch dictionary Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal.) The OED attempts to “present in alphabetical series the words that have formed the English vocabulary from the time of the earliest records down to the present day.”

Forgive me if you already knew that. I just never assume that mathy folks know (or care) about the OED, just as I don’t assume that literary people are familiar with the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra.

The OED is revised four times a year. Over 2,400 entries were added during the most recent revision (December 1), and the following are new words that entered the dictionary during the past year:

• coordinate geometry – system in which points, lines, shapes, and surfaces are represented by algebraic expressions. This term was added as a “subordinate entry,” meaning that it appears under the main entry “coordinate.” Still, it’s surprising that it took four millennia to get the word into the OED (Descartes introduced the coordinate plane in Discourse on the Method of Reasoning Well and Seeking Truth in the Sciences in 1637).
• cyberslacking – using internet access at work for personal reasons while maintaining the appearance of working. For example, updating a math joke blog instead of revising the budget per your director’s request.
• ego-surfing – searching the web for instances of your own name. Or checking Amazon daily to determine the sales ranking of your book.
• Richard Snary – as Dick is a shortened form of Richard, this is a pun for “dictionary.” (Go ahead, say, “Dick Snary” out loud and listen to what it sounds like.) This is a 17th‑century slang term that has somehow hung around for several hundred years, not unlike the math pun, “Pie aren’t square, pie are round!”
• Rolle’s theorem – a theorem which says that a differentiable function with equal values at two points must have a point somewhere in between where the first derivative is zero. It’s good to see that calculus is getting some props.
• rope’s length – in knot theory, the minimal length of an ideally flexible rope needed to tie a given knot. What’s unclear is whether this is the intention for the entry in the OED. Knot theorists use ropelength, not rope’s length, to describe this concept, but a Google search fails to reveal any common use of “rope’s length.”
• techy – an informal way of designating technological sophistication. This is heartening — with techy now officially recognized, “mathy” can’t be far behind.

The following are entries that should be added but probably never will be:

• decagon – what a croupier says after being fired.
• dilemma – a lemma with two results.
• protractor – in favor of farm machinery.
• tangent – a sun-burned gentleman.
• Calvin Culus, Albert Jabra, and Paulina Hedron – hey, if Richard Snary gets in for “dictionary,” then it’s only reasonable that we math folks get some stupid puns, too.

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.