The darndest things

A few days ago, I was grading a Calculus quiz and came across the following statement: “the function is discontinuous at x=3 because there is an asmatope (sic)”. I thought it was hilarious, and I still marked it as correct. The point is, from looking at a graph the student was able to identify where the function was discontinuous and why, they just couldn’t remember the exact word for it. After some thought, I realized how many of the names we give mathematical objects are unlinked from their meaning when you first start learning them (and I mean, asmatope is pretty darn close to asymptote, right?).  This has made me be more intentional and direct about why things are named the way they are. Sometimes, though, the name comes from ancient Greek, Latin, is a German word, and it might be harder for the students to associate with a particular meaning. In the end, you learn these things, but some amusement is to be had (sometimes by all of us in the classroom). Sometimes, they come up with clever ways of using these names, which is also quite amusing. Here are some of my favorites.

  1. “We can prove the function is analytic by proving the Gucci-Riemann equations.” This is, of course, not the right way to prove a function is analytic (you would want to use Cauchy-Riemann equations here), but what a fashionable mistake! Fortunately, this student knew what he was supposed to do, just not the name for it. I, of course, called back to this later in the semester when I introduced Yves St. Laurent series.
  2. More fun with Cauchy: for some reason, my students have been having a lot of fun with this in Real Analysis. First, they didn’t know how to pronounce Cauchy, but that was easily fixed. More interestingly, they started calling Cauchy sequences “cushy” sequences, and I pointed out that even though Cauchy sequences are very nice, they are not always cushy. We decided constant sequences were cushy sequences (and of course, Cauchy). One day, they decided they would start saying “is that Cauchy?” in the same way that one would slangily use “is that Kosher“. I liked that.
  3. WTF as an abbreviation for “want to find”. Often, in proving a theorem one might want to show that there exists something with a certain property, so one wants to find such a thing. Students often abbreviate certain statements and that is fine, but it was too tempting to make fun of this one. They get a kick out of it, too (and of course they start writing it in every proof).
  4. “Boom!”, “And we are done”, and other variations on “Q.E.D.” As we all know (or do we?) Q.E.D. stands for quod erat demonstrandum, Latin for “what was to be demonstrated”. I had a student in Real Analysis who found this a little dry, and decided to end all his proofs with “and we are done”. I have told this story to later classes of Real Analysis, and they have taken it as a challenge to make Q.E.D. their own thing. One of my students this semester ends all his proofs with “Boom!”, which I think, in all honesty, is just as good as a little square at the lower right corner of the proof.
  5. About halfway through the semester in my Calculus I class, I usually have them play Derivative Jeopardy (and use these wonderful slides I found online). They have to form teams, and come up with a team name, which I encourage to be mathy, and during this season to be Halloween related. This week, the best team name was “Logarithmic Differentiation or Treat” (I had told them Logarithmic Differentiation was a good trick). The worst name (too soon!) was “e^(bola)”.

So, dear readers, any funny things your students say that you would like to share with us? Please post them in the comments section below.

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