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Mathematical Humor

  • By: Donald Casadonte
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Mathematics has served as a source of humor in two broad ways: (1) by using humor within mathematics, to either parody a concept or lambast a persona, and (2) by using mathematics within humor as a means of furthering the plot of a joke or story. This entry examines each of these ways of using mathematics as a servant of humor.

Humor Within Mathematics

The history of making jokes using mathematics is a long and complex one going back at least to the fanciful but historically real character of Meton, the mathematician, in Aristophanes’s classic Greek comedy, Birds. Mathematics has been humorously mocked and parodied (mostly by non-mathematicians) in every era with, perhaps, the gentlest example being contained on a postcard sent by the famous 19th-century mathematician, ...

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