Erdős Vocabulary

Feb 22, 2023

Paul Erdős was a prolific mathematician who published more than 1,500 papers in his lifetime. You might hear someone refer to their Erdős number, talking about the “collaborative distance” between them. The distance is measured by the shortest path via co-authorship of papers. The Kevin “Bacon number” applies the same idea to movies.

But one of the most unique things about Erdős was his distinctive vocabulary.

  • Children were referred to as "epsilons" (because in mathematics, particularly calculus, an arbitrarily small positive quantity is commonly denoted by the Greek letter (ε)).
  • People who stopped doing mathematics had "died," while people who died had "left."
  • "The Book" referred to a hypothetical book that contains the most beautiful and elegant proofs for mathematical problems. He believed that God kept The Book in heaven.
  • When he found a proof that he considered particularly elegant, he would say it was "from the book”
  • Alcoholic drinks were "poison."
  • Music (except classical music) was "noise."
  • Large numbers as "skyscraper" or "tower" numbers.
  • To be considered a hack was to be a "Newton."
  • To give a mathematical lecture was "to preach."
  • Mathematical lectures themselves were "sermons"
  • To give an oral exam to students was "to torture" them.
  • “When did you arrive?” → “When were you born?”
  • If you weren’t a mathematician, you were a “trivial being”