Book Review: Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks

Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks, by G. Patrick Vennebush

From time to time I read books about jokes or reflect about what jokes are made about different groups of people [1], and although I am not the sort of person who often uses the jokes I read, I tend to consider myself as someone with a deep, albeit dry, sense of humor.  Whether or not that is a good thing, it does give me, I think, some insight into this book and what makes its jokes funny, or at least what makes people think of the jokes that they do. This book, and others like it, serve not only as the source of groaning puns to make, but also give the reader a bit of insight into the nature of mathematical humor, and to what separates mathematically inclined people from the remainder of society.  To be sure, math is not something that is loved by a lot of people, but those who do enjoy it are still human beings with a sense of humor and because of that it is not a surprise that there are books like this to show what jokes can be made from mathematical matters.

After a lot of testimonials from people who have enjoyed the book, this book is divided into sections based on the type of joke it is, which gives the reader a great deal of insight into the genres of mathematics jokes.  There are questions and answers relating to light bulbs, chickens crossing roads, and numbers.  There are one-liners, definitions, graphic jokes, jokes about three guys, cases where the same question has different answers, puns, conversions between units, jokes about professions, pure math, jokes about higher education, jokes relating to the classroom, and jokes about not drinking and deriving.  What does this say?  Well, for one, the jokes are of a full range that show that mathematically inclined people are certainly no less decadent than the general population as a whole–quite a few of these jokes would not go over well in certain types of company–and in general it shows that people who are good at math are probably thought to be less funny than they are in their own estimation.  Some of these jokes were genuinely funny and many of them were worth at least a wry, knowing smile, at least if you understood what was being joked about (for some reason pure math and the Reimann hypothesis come in for frequent jokes).

What insights can be gained from a book like this?  For one, there are a lot of jokes about the differences between different sorts of people who are knowledgeable in math.  Even within the world of mathematically inclined people, there is a perceived divide between those who are engineers, pure mathematicians, and computer programmers, as well as a divide between students and instructors and professors and graduate students.  In addition to this there are plenty of jokes that make use of the difference between the meaning of a term in ordinary language and the meaning of the term within mathematics.  Likewise, there are far too many jokes about wanting to be tangent to the curves of some beautiful woman, and one wonders if engineering girls get really tired of hearing that joke repeated ad nauseum.  Some of the jokes are repeated, but for the most part the jokes show a striking amount of creativity, even if the book is accurate in saying that only mathy folks are likely to get the jokes and appreciate them.  For those who are able to get the jokes, though, they reveal a good deal about what subjects mathy people find funny.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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