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The popular MO question "Famous mathematical quotes" has turned up many examples of witty, insightful, and humorous writing by mathematicians. Yet, with a few exceptions such as Weyl's "angel of topology," the language used in these quotes gets the message across without fancy metaphors or what-have-you. That's probably the style of most mathematicians.

Occasionally, however, one is surprised by unexpectedly colorful language in a mathematics paper. If I remember correctly, a paper of Gerald Sacks once described a distinction as being

as sharp as the edge of a pastrami slicer in a New York delicatessen.

Another nice one, due to Wilfred Hodges, came up on MO here.

The reader may well feel he could have bought Corollary 10 cheaper in another bazaar.

What other examples of colorful language in mathematical papers have you enjoyed?

1

There are some witty/funny titles (with a pun), see partial list compiled at http://ncatlab.org/nlab/show/punny+title

– Zoran Skoda – 2010-11-05T11:21:28.5131I find Grillet's Book "Abstract Algebra" quite witty at places. Things like "The diligent reader will delightfully prove" or "so we take the elements, kicking and screaming, ..." turn up every some pages. Made me crack up from time to time. – Matthias Ludewig – 2011-10-22T18:11:40.930

2Was a little surprised to learn of Kollar's sentiment appearing in the Princeton Companion -- funny to see a great mathematician hating on stacks! – Todd Trimble – 2011-10-22T21:06:24.607

69Latest paper, my co-author put in "but we will choose a more painful way, because there is nothing like pain for feeling alive" but the referee jumped on it. – Will Jagy – 2010-04-23T05:09:11.450

16Maybe I should expand the question to include colorful language

cutfrom serious mathematics papers :) – John Stillwell – 2010-04-23T05:18:01.527I like the idea, of course. – Will Jagy – 2010-04-23T05:34:07.513

37By the way, your remark reminds me of another in a similar spirit that made it into the

Princeton Companion. In his article on algebraic geometry, János Kollár says of stacks: "Their study is strongly recommended to people who would have been flagellants in earlier times." – John Stillwell – 2010-04-23T07:49:36.5602A paper I've co-authored on mathematical knowledge management ends with "More productive is to frankly embrace its complexity, and try to tame it with tools appropriate for a complex field rather than to do forensics on a carcass." One referee complained, but we left it in. – Jacques Carette – 2010-04-23T11:58:06.520

3Incidentally, in British, the phrase "colourful language" usually means coarse language (possibly from the idea that such language "turns the air blue"). Seeing the title, I came here expecting to vote-to-close but was pleasantly surprised when I read the actual question. – Loop Space – 2010-04-23T14:34:12.820

3Colorful language also means course language in American English, so I too was expecting a rather different set of posts... – Steven Gubkin – 2010-04-23T16:48:53.437

1

The answer with Andrew Granville's "Zaphod Beeblebrox" title reminded me of this news, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes by Daina Taimina won for oddest book title of 2009, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookseller/Diagram_Prize_for_Oddest_Title_of_the_Year and http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/26/oddest-book-title-award

– Will Jagy – 2010-04-23T17:59:41.8872When framing the question, I hesitated between "colorful" and "vivid" (as in the old

New Yorkerfillers entitled "No vivid writing please") but decided to take a chance on "colorful". I'm glad that MO users are open to different interpretations of the word. – John Stillwell – 2010-04-24T01:39:22.97733I was actually rather surprised recently by a referee who did not know the phrase “red herring”, and had to look it up. He insisted that we change it to something more understandable. It makes me wonder how much “colourful” language is weeded out by referees, and whether the mathematical literature is poorer for it. – Harald Hanche-Olsen – 2010-04-24T02:31:50.960

28@Harald: If you intend your mathematical papers to be read by a wide range of readers, then write them in simple language, suitable for those who are relative beginners in English. I remember reading long ago some metaphoric phrase in a mathematics research paper, then imagining students all over the world getting out their English dictionaries, looking it up, and still not understanding what it meant. (I no longer remember what the phrase was, just this reaction to it.) – Gerald Edgar – 2010-04-24T15:43:48.507

2I think this a fun question, but what I don't like about it is that it can go on indefinitely... – Kevin H. Lin – 2010-05-02T19:43:50.237

Here's one I just stumbled upon and made me immediately recall this thread. Too bad no more answers are taken. In Dodson & Parker's "A User's Guide to Algebraic Topology", we have in page 207, "Corollary 6.3.9 (CIA theorem). If odd people fit straight away, then there is no communication after the first level and most of the superstructure is irrelevant." This is a corollary for the fact that a spectral sequence has trivial differentials and thus converges, if $E_{p,q}^2=0$ when $p$ or $q$ is odd. – Bruno Stonek – 2016-01-04T02:04:52.330

Stasheff, Homotopy associativity of H-spaces II, definition 4.4. He defines

sputnik homotopies. – Bruno Stonek – 2016-02-19T08:48:17.090"....the method used to prove that theorem is really discombobulating.. " I don't know why a writer comes up with such a word. – Unknown – 2010-06-12T15:45:20.393

Three In a tree - Chudnovsky and Seymour. WAITING FOR A BAT TO FLY BY IN POLYNOMIAL TIME - , Lovasz – Anthony Hernandez – 2016-10-17T11:09:12.980

Snaith, 1979, Algebraic cobordism and K-theory, section 9:

I have written this section in terms of spaces (infinite loopspaces) rather than spectra in order to emphasis the familiar space, BU, rather than the more metaphysical spectrum, BU.– Bruno Stonek – 2017-01-31T13:17:53.1372This should be reopened because it was closed in a fit of pique in the prime of its life. – Harry Gindi – 2017-08-08T02:12:33.990