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Singapore Math

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mathematical Clerihews

A clerihew is an irreverent, rhyming quatrain based on a fanciful biographical theme, which begins with the name of its subject. A cousin to the limerick, the clerihew is a form of short comic verse which was popular in England in the 1920s.

The name "clerihew" came from the middle name of the English journalist named Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956) who developed the novel verse form.

On the mathematician-architect, Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), Bentley wrote:

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, "I am going to dine with some men.
If anybody calls
Say I'm designing St. Paul's."

Let’s focus our attention slyly on some famous mathematicians and math educators of yesteryear.

Paul Erdös
Wasn’t crazy about MS-DOS
For his brain worked like a cutter
Sharper than any MS-DOS computer

George Boole
was nobody's fool:
but never forget⎯
his mathematical legacy is the empty set.

                                                                              ⎯ Robin Harte
Fibonacci da Pisa
Who exported Hindu numerals as far as Czechoslovakia
Is remembered today for a pair of highly fertile rabbits
Which kept on reproducing in the most irrational habit.

Archimedes of Syracuse,
To get into the news,
Called out "Eureka"
And became the first streaker.

                                    ⎯J. C. W. de La Bere

Clerihews on a Singapore Mathematician-Amateur

What about composing a few clerihews for the new millennium? Here are two on Singapore's Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who would have undoubtedly become a first-class mathematician had he not followed his father's political footsteps.

Prime Minister Lee
Reluctantly had to flee
His beloved mathematical brethren
To take charge of some political harem

Brigadier General Lee
Could not foresee
His mathematical love
Succumb to a political move

K C Yan
Didn't think he can
Churn out some clerihews
Until he knelt on
some pews

Who's your "mathematical idol" (dead or living)? Why not formulate some clerihews about him or her? And share them with the rest of us.

Eves, H. (2003). Mathematical circles Vol III: Mathematical circles adieu and return to mathematical circles. The Mathematical Association of America.

© Yan Kow Cheong, February 6, 2011