This file contains a list of quotes from people in mathematical or scientific
circles at Cambridge University, England (hehehe, never miss a chance to
put the Cambridge people down, especially if you study at Oxford).

Overheard at a supervision :
Supervisor : Do you think you understand the basic ideas of Quantum
Mechanics ?
Supervisee : Ah! Well,what do we mean by"to understand"in the context
of Quantum Mechanics?
Supervisor : You mean"No",don't you?
Supervisee : Yes.

The Tautology prize goes to the lecturer who uttered the gem:
" If we complicate things they get less simple."

This year's modesty award is given for a phrase spoken by a lecturer after
a rather difficult concept had just been introduced.
" You may feel that this is a little unclear but in fact I am lecturing it
extremely well."

Overheard at last year's Archimedeans' Garden Party :
" Quantum Mechanics is a lovely introduction to Hilbert Spaces !"

A Senior mathematician was asked which language he used for some of his
computing. He replied that he used a very high level language:


>From an algebra lecture:
"A real gentleman never takes bases unless he really has to."

>From the same lecturer:
"This book fills a well needed gap in the literature."

And another encouraging book review:
"This book is only for the serious enthusiast ; I haven't read it myself."

Two quotes from an electrical engineer (but former mathematician):
"...but the four-colour theorem was sufficiently true at the time."
"The whole point of mathematics is to solve differential equations!"

And,as a contrast,a quote from a well known mathematician/physicist:
"Trying to solve [differential] equations is a youthful aberration that you
will soon grow out of."

While on the subject how about this fundamental law of physics heard in General
Relativity this year:
"Nature abhors second order differential equations."

A perplexing quote from a theoretical chemist:
"...but it might be a quasi-infinite set."
What is a "quasi-infinite set? Answers on a strictly finite postcard,please.

This year's Modesty Prize is awarded to the lecturer who said :
"Of course,this isn't really the best way to do it.But seeing as you're not
quite as clever as I am-in fact none of you are anywhere near as clever as I
am-we'll do it this way."

>From the same lecturer :
"Now we'll prove the theorem.In fact I'll prove it all by myself."

And from a particle physics course :
"This course will contain a lot of charm and beauty but very little truth."

A comparison between the programming languages BCPL and BSPL :
"Like BCPL you can omit semicolons almost anywhere."

At the beginning of a course it is important to reassure the audience about how
straight-forward the course is and about how good the lectures are going to be.
But what about this quote from the beginning of the Galois Theory course:
"This is going to be an adventure for you...and for me."
Or this one from Statistical Physics:
"At the meeting in August I put my name down for this course becase I knew
nothing about it."

In the middle of the Stochastic Systems course the lecturer offered this piece
of careers advice:
"If you haven't enjoyed the material in the last few lectures then a career in
chartered accountancy beckons."

A lecturer of Linear Systems found the following on his board when he arrived
one morning:
" Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Greens' functions are boring
And so are Fourier transforms. "

An engineer actually gave an answer to the question of "quasi-infinite" sets:
"It's one with more than ten elements."
And they wonder why buildings fall over...

>From a supervisor :
"Any theorem in Analysis can be fitted onto an arbitrarily small piece of
paper if you are sufficiently obscure."

No matter how elegant a course is there will always be occasions when a certain
about of arithmetic is called for:
"I just want you to have a brief boggle at the belly-busting complexity of
evaluating this."

A lecturer recently started to use RUNES in his course! His justification:
"I need an immediately distinguishable character...so I'll use something that
no-one will recognise."

>From a Special Relativity lecture:
"...and you find you get masses of energy."

It's nice to see the general-purpose 'nobbling constant' making a welcome
return to Cambridge lectures:
"This must be wrong by a factor that oughtn't to be too different from unity."

A flattering comment by a student for his GR supervisor:
"She's the only person in DAMTP who's a real person rather than an abstract
machine for doing tripos questions. "

A worrying thought from the same student:
"Sex and drugs? They're nothing compared with a good proof!"

A description of a lecturer:
"G----'s a maniacal pixie!!!"

A less polite description of a famous (and notorious) mathematician:
"I personally think he's the greatest fraud since Cyril Burt!!"
- any guesses ?

Renormalisation holds no fears for this lecturer of Plasma Physics:
"...and divergent integrals need really sleazy cutoffs."

In the true style of Cambridge Maths Tripos we have the following:
"Proof of Thm. 6.2 is trivial from Thm. 6.9"

Can anybody guess the context in which the following is correct ?
"This theorem is obviously proved as 13 equals 15."

Why do mathematicians insist on using words that already have another meaning?
"It is the complex case that is easier to deal with."

And from various seminars in the King's College Research Centre:
"...the non-uniqueness is exponentially small."
"I'm not going to say exactly what I mean because I'm not absolutely certain
"It's dangerous to name your children until you know how many you are going to
"You don't want to prove theorems that are false."
And that last one wins the Sybil Fawlty Prize for "Stating the Bleeding

A slightly more honest version of "The student can easily see that..." :
"If you play around with your fingers for a while, you'll see that's true."

Suggestions are welcome on the meaning of this:
"If it doesn't happen at a corner, but at an edge, it nonetheless happens at a orner."
- Eh ?

In a Complex Variables course a long, long, LONG time ago a lecturer wanted to
swap the order of an integral and an infinite sum...
"To do this we use a special theorem...the theorem that says that secretly this
is an applied maths course."
I never name my lecturers but he's now head of the Universities Grant Commission
And a lot of universities would like to swap him for an infinite sum.

>From an Algebra III lecturer :
"If you want to prove it the simplest thing is to prove it."

This year's Honesty Prize goes to the natural sciences supervisor, who replied
to a question with
"Don't ask me. I'm not a mathmo."

And from Oxford...
"This does have physical applications. In fact it's all tied up with strings."

Good heavens, do I see a lecturer actually noticing the existence of his
"Was that clear enough? Put up your hand if that wasn't clear enough. Ah, I
thought not."

Snobbery or what?
"In the sort of parrot-like way you use to teach stats to biologists, this is
expected minus observed."
Also from statistics:
"I too would like to know what a statistician actually does."
"We're not doing mathematics; this is statistics."

"You could define the subspace topology this way, if you were sufficiently

"You mustn't be too rigid when doing Fluid mechanics."

Talk about ulterior motives...
"This handout is not produced for your erudition but merely so I can practice
the TeX word-processor."

>From 1A NatSci "Cells" course:
" There are two proteins involved in DNA synthasis, they are called
DNAsynthase 1 and DNAsynthase 3"

>From a Part 2 Quantum Mechanics lecture:
"Just because they are called 'forbidden' transitions does not
mean that they are forbidden. They are less allowed than allowed
transitions, if you see what I mean."

>From an IBM Assembler lecture:
"If you find bear droppings around your tent, it's fairly likely that
there are bears in the area."

A Biochemistry paper included an analysis of a previously undiscovered
sugar named by the researchers "godnose" .

>From a 1B Electrical Engineering lecture:
"This isn't true in practice - what we've missed out is Stradivarius's
And then the aside:
"For those of you who don't know, that's been called by others the fiddle

One from a 1A Engineering maths lecture :
"Graphs of higher degree polynomials have this habit of doing unwanted
wiggly things."

"Apart from the extra line that's a one line proof."
"This is a one line proof...if we start sufficiently far to the left."

A slight difficulty occured with geometry in an Engineering lecture one
"This is the maximum power triangle." said a lecturer, pointing to a rectangle.

This year the Computer Scientists seem to be in the running for the Honesty
"Sorry, I should have made that completely clear. This is a shambles."

>From a Computer Sciences Protection lecture:
"Who should be going to this lecture? Everyone...apart from the third year of
the two-year CompSci course."

"I don't want to go into this in detail, but I would like to illustrate some of
the tedium."

Oh those poor CompScis....
"I'm not going to get anything more useful done in this lecture, so I might as
well talk."
later followed by ...
"Well there you are, one lecture with no useful content."

Three from a NatSci Physics lecturer:
" You don't have to copy that down -- there's no wisdom in it -- it only
repeats what I said. "
"We now wish to show that they are not merely equal but _the same thing_."
"And before I leave this subject, I would like to tell you something

>From a first year chemistry lecture some personal problems of the lecturer:
" Before I started this morning's lecture I was going to tell you about my
third divorce but on reflection I thought I'd better tell my wife first."

>From a single research seminar at the King's College Research Centre:
"I'm sure it's right whether it's valid or not."
"WARNING: There is no reason to believe this will work."

and another one from a 1A Engineering maths lecture :
"Graphs of higher degree polynomials have this habit of doing unwanted
wiggly things."

It is said of some things in maths that a mathematician should read the
proofs precisely once.
"I don't want to go into this in detail, but I would like to illustrate some
of the tedium."

>From a _single_ seminar at the King's College Research Centre:
"I'm sure it's right whether it's valid or not."
"Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead."
"I can see T is tending to infinity for you as well."

"If I am incomprehensible then stop me, but if it's simply wrong then I don't
think that it matters."

>From a supervisor:
"It's a standard question, made a bit harder by adding some A-level stuff."

An introduction to the summation convention:
"If you've got a problem with this then go back, write the whole thing out
using sigma notation and convince yourself that it's better not to have

And from the University of Bath...

"A one by one matrix has one column and one row, and the same number
in both. "

"Using some hand-waving and symmetry ideas... "

"You haven't written it in green - your notes will be wrong. "

"Any Questions? [pause] You all look asleep - what is it,
hyperglucocemia? Too much sugar on your cornflakes? Not any
cornflakes? Never mind - I'm bright eyed and bushy tailed, so let's

Meanwhile, back in Cambridge...

"This is known as the 'Toytown solution'. Actually, there is a more
technical term for it ..."

And from the DPMMS common room...

"Of course this is true for more general values of 5"
"Not so much a double coset table, more a pile of junk"

A brief conversation -
"What have we not got?"
"No we have not"
"No we don't"
"We have not got not"
"Ah, Not is what we have not got!"
-Agreement followed.

...what do they put in the coffee??

>From an applied maths supervisor (a part III student):
"All numbers are totally irrelevant, unless you're doing Astrophysics."
"However well you do [in your Tripos exams] you always find there's someone
from Trinity who's beaten you."

I'm told that countability isn't taught in IA anymore. It doesn't seem to have
been taught to this Part III lecturer at all!
"Damn! I'm running out of integers!"


Anonymous supervisor, talking about Relativistic Electrodynamics:
"There are some bits at the end of the course I don't really
understand, but the students don't normally get that far."

>From an EIST lecturer:
"When you stick your fingers in the mains, its not the imaginary component
which you will feel"

>From substitute lecturer, replacing the scheduled appearance by Dr. X:
"Good morning. For those of you who don't know me, I am not Dr. X;
I am Dr. X's representative on Earth."

And from my source in Bath...

"Now, I want you to look very carefully at what we have just proved.
What we have just proved is false." [slight pause while what he has
just said sinks in] "Oh dear, that's going to go onto the computer,
isn't it."

[ Fame at last ! ]

"I'll give you a clue - it begins with `f' and rhymes with `factor'..."
- Lecturer to a 1st year problem class

"The object of this lecture is to frighten half of you away."

"I wrote my first program in 1954, and that didn't work either."

"That is the total and absolute generalisation ... well, almost."

Back in Cambridge, explanations are up to their usual standards...
"Perhaps it would be best if this argument remained a deep mystery to you."
"One property which we know very well happens; a+b=b+c."
(for all a,b,c?)
"I shall explain this by waving my hands about in an appropriate manner."
"What I've talked about today seems to be uniquely incoherent ...
I never know if you're as baffled as me, or if you're getting along fine."

And our first candidate for the Sybil Fawlty prize for "Stating the Bleeding
"g inverse is called an inverse to g."

"This is not really a convention, it's just the normal way of doing things."

The things Cambridge does to a lecturer...
"Dr. X hasn't lectured a Cambridge group before, so he might be quite

"Some students may feel that the contents of Question 33 are both dull and
useless. I must confess that my first impulse is to reply that it serves them
right for doing the fast course."

>From the wonderful world of IA Natsci:
"Whenever the maths turns out to be impossible, you have to invent new

A depressed first year...
"I used to be without hope - but now various people have assured me
that failing the exams is more difficult than Green's functions."

"There are ways of managing without cuts, but I do not think the present
Government is going to find them" - IB Complex variable, October 1979.

"I've never tried dividing both sides by infinity before, so here goes."
"It's OK to divide by zero, provided you don't cancel it."

"It's a _real_ integer, not just any old integer."

For once a quote meant to be humourous:
"To a mathematician, PI is 1 and PI^2 is 10. 2*PI we're not quite sure about."

Descriptions of assorted mathematicians:
"He's not just an experimentalist. He's an antitheorist!"
"He gets lost on random walks."
"Some inspired joker - probably Maxwell."

"This is the simple form. [pause] Well, it's simple in the sense that it leaves
out all the really important bits."

"...as Poincare' proved at the beginning of this talk..."

"This is obvious. But don't look at it too carefully, or it becomes unobvious,
until you look at it for a long time when it becomes obvious again."

"I need two hands to wave, not just one."

"FORTRAN... Then, as now, the language used by scientists with real problems."

"Suitably interpreted, this is an exact value."

And from the depths of historical apocrypha...
Supervisor (drawing a graph): "This function has no nodes."
"How does it smell?"

A good enough philosophy of life:
"Theoretical physicists tend to assume that Nature isn't as malevolent as
our pure mathematical examiners."

The following shouldn't really be here but I couldn't resist it:
Tourist outside DAMTP: "I think it used to be a church."

"Bear with me until my starting transient has settled down into doing things
properly from the notes."

"And now, a few examples of fatigue from [my] vast experience."

Do we have a Dr. Hobson in the faculty?
"If there is a choice, you've got to do it."

"Different may mean the same."

Picture this...
"A sphere isn't that simple when you get into higher dimensions
- it's a bit non-flat."

And those fascinating results come thick and fast in this course:
"There are 9 results in there - it looks like it's going to be tedious, and
indeed it is."

Sometimes I think they make Quantum Mechanics deliberately obscure...
"There's a number down here which, for the sake of argument, we can
call 1."

Precision? What precision?
"We have a correspondence that's nearly one-to-one."

And a couple of remarks from the students...
"Mathmos think of engineers a bit like lemmings...
...they're both wooly and jump to the wrong conclusions."
"I don't see the point of lecturers talking, except to resolve some of the
ambiguities in their handwriting."

"Various people with suicidal tendencies can even integrate elliptic functions"

Said of Algebra III:
"This course could be viewed as 1001 things to do with your favourite matrix"

The problems that the maths societies have to overcome to get their audience!
"Why weren't you at the meeting?"
"Because it was boring."
"No it wasn't."
"Well, it _should_ have been!"

Oh, the joys of dual lecturing!
"I was going to say 'the cream of the nation's youth', but they're probably at
the other lecturer."

The secret of Pure Mathematics:
"...interpreting out of all recognition..."

The black art of applied mathematics...
"It is traditional to leave the notation ambiguous."
...and talking about the black arts...
"For non-deterministic read 'Inhabited by pixies'."

And if that wasn't confusing enough...
"I thought I understood Newton's Third Law before that lecture."

"This is equation 2, which implies that equation 3 comes someplace earlier."

"Unless x is a banana or some other such object that commutes with A."

And this year's honesty award must surely go for the following two gems from
the same lecturer...
"I'm going to make a small point in the corner of the board [does so], and come
back to it later!"
And later...
"The thing which caused me to write 'lies' in extremely small letters in the
corner of the board was..."

And later still...
"When you see this, you are entitled to go ` Y'what?! '."

A possible candidate for the Tautology Award?
"If we want to take the westerly winds into account, we could also do that
using this method, but then we'd have to take the westerly winds into

"This type of rotor is known as a squirrel-cage rotor because the way it's
wound looks like a bird cage."

CompSci meets Zoology?
"What we're trying to do is work things out about elephants."


A nomination for the Sybil Fawlty "Stating the Bleedin' Obvious" Prize:
"A polynomial f is said to have degree m, written deg f equals m, if it does
have degree m."

Now it is fairly well known that lectures are not supposed to be copied down
mindlessly. But...
"Recall word 2 of defn 2.1"
But then again...
"I know you all have very innocent minds, but occasionally a word should be
allowed to wander through before reaching the paper."

And on the subject of teaching styles:
"Proof left as an exercise for your supervisor."

And this year's first contenders for the Tautology award:
"It's obvious that what I've just written down is obvious."
"The fixed element can be said to be exactly what it is."

Mathematical notation is a minefield of obscure symbols ranging over most
alphabets and scriptstyles. Any guesses for which character was described by an
undergraduate as:
"It's a script spider"?

And with the reading problems come the corresponding writing ones suffered by
these lecturers:
"My script 'y's always end up looking like rabbits."
"Little mouse tensored with piece of cheese."

However, good notation has its rewards as described by this lecturer:
"The prime leaps on to the other factor in a most convenient fashion."

And now, back to the content of the lecture courses:
"You can hardly underestimate the importance of this."
"I've got a lot to say about this theorem, so don't stop me if I go too fast."
"Sometimes it's useful to know how large your zero is"

Three from the same lecturer who is clearly having real problems...
"What am I doing? I haven't written any damn thing yet - I've just written
total rubbish."
"What am I talking about? Does anyone know what I'm talking about? This
is rubbish."
"Every time I go to the board with these notes I write down something completely

Hmmm... do I detect someone almost as cynical as myself?
"Theoretical physicist - a physicist whose existence is postulated, to make the
numbers balance, but who is never actually observed in the laboratory."

A IB Chemistry lecturer, refering to a previously derived equation.
"This is rigorous. Well, it's rigorous in the sense that ... All right,
it's not rigorous."

Certain calulations will always be CPU intensive...
"This principle is sometimes known as assuming the CIA is paying our computing

Letter from an editor:
"I very much regret to inform you that the review procedure of your paper
'Approximation of Delay systems by Fourier-Laguerre series', is incurring a