This is pretty juvenile, but hey, we all have an inner twelve-year-old hidden within our mature selves, and I figure others might enjoy it as much as I did, so without further ado, from David A. Cox’s reminiscence of his fellow mathematician Steven Zucker (“‘Steve’ to everyone who knew him”; from here):

I met Steve in the fall of 1970 when we were entering graduate students at Princeton. We both studied algebraic geometry, though I was more algebraic (à la Grothendieck) while Steve was more transcendental (à la Griffiths). This made for some lively conversations. A few weeks after we met, we realized that we had to write a joint paper because the combination of our last names, in the usual alphabetical order, is remarkably obscene.

See: Cox–Zucker machine. (Via Avva.)


  1. jack morava says

    Steve Zucker was a good friend but I and many others never found this very funny.

  2. Well, tastes differ.

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I expect you all know (indeed, it has probably come up before in LanguageHat) that George Gamow one had a student called Ralph Alpher and decided to invite Hans Bethe (without telling him the reason) to be a coauthor of a paper by Alpher, Bethe and Gamow. It doesn’t work in British English because “beta” [bɪjtə] and “Bethe” sound completely different. I don’t remember if Bethe was amused, but I’ve read that Alpher was no happier with Gamow’s joke than Jack Morava was about the Cox-Zucker paper.

    I’ve sometimes wondered if the collaboration between Cox and Box on important work in statistics was entirely fortuitous.

  4. indeed, it has probably come up before in LanguageHat

    Indeed: 2011, 2018, 2019 (courtesy of one Athel Cornish-Bowden), 2020. This is an αβγ crowd, obviously.

  5. jack morava says

    There’s a story that the topologist RH Bing wrote a paper with his Chinese student (Lao [?] Bong), and that they looked for a possible collaborator surnamed Bang [I was thinking about this recently because of the appearance of Lester Bangs in an old LH thread: does anyone remember a story called `Dori Bangs’ by Bruce Sterling?] hoping to publish their work as joint by Bing, Bang, and Bong, but without success. As far as I can tell there is no paper by Bing and Bong in the literature so I believe this story is apocryphal.

    But I objected because the mathematical community is often described as hypermasculine (along maybe with the military, sardinian shepherds usw): this goes back a long way: have a look, for example, at Plato’s dialog about Theatetus (who IIRC was working on the irrationality of the square root of 17 or something). The field is lucky nowadays in having a growing cohort of brilliant young people from all the major genders, and I hope that this tradition may be fading.

  6. I know plenty of women who would be amused by Cox–Zucker. You are surely not trying to revive the delicate-flower model of womanhood! Some people enjoy smutty humor, some don’t.

  7. jack morava says

    I may be thinking about (what some would call) `Snowflakes’ of various sorts, but in professional contexts I think their sensibilities deserve to be respected. I feel like I’m as good-enough an ole boy as anybody but this seems to me just basic courtesy.

  8. But “respecting the sensibilities” of the most easily shocked/offended leads to the kind of stifling uniform niceness we saw in official American culture of the 1950s, or that of the Victorian era. It is surely possible to avoid the nastiest racist/sexist humor (rape jokes, for example) without rendering everything we say and write terminally bland.

  9. This got me thinking of Coxsackie, the Hudson River town (which lent its name to a family of oft-unpleasant viruses). The etymology of the place seems to be infested even more than usual with ridiculous Indian fantasy (‘place of many hoot owls’). It took a bit of a trial to find a plausible and descriptive etymology, ‘high land’, though this is based on Massachusett, not on Munsee, and the analysis is from 1906, when Algonquian linguistics was not as rigorous as today.

  10. There’s a recent paper by a Daniel Allcock called “Most big mapping class groups fail the Tits Alternative”. The fellow missed the chance to name it “There is no Tits alternative…”

  11. J.W. Brewer says
  12. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I have to confess that I named a paper “Size Matters” (with a subtitle, but we’ll ignore that ): doi 10.1016/j.jtbi.2012.01.013

  13. @J.W. Brewer – I suspect that letter is a provocation and not sincere, but who can tell these days?

    I do know that in New Hampshire we had a Congressman in the ’90s named “Dick Swett” and, at least in public, everyone pretended that it was absolutely normal to go by Dick rather than Richard with that last name. Congressman Swett was also a Mormon, which apparently persuaded people that he was too innocent of the world to ever make such a prurient connection between his name and a homophonous bodily excretion.

  14. David Marjanović says

    I’ve included “SIZE DOES MATTER” in several conference presentations, but illustrated it with the poster for the American Godzilla movie, which fit all those topics much better…

  15. This is getting rather far from author names and paper titles, but it may have some local interest for Steve. For nearly a century now, Mount Holyoke College has hosted an annual poetry competition called the Glascock Poetry Prize. W. H. Auden once agreed to serve as a judge, without much prior knowledge of the contest or the institution, and according to local lore he could barely contain his delight when he arrived at this venerable New England women’s college and was informed that he would be awarding the Glascock Prize in Hooker Auditorium in Clapp Hall.

  16. Ha! Thanks for that, and no one should ever worry about venturing off-topic around here.

  17. LL of course recently posted about pearl clutching of the Coq (programming) language community.

  18. Sigh. I’m all for inclusiveness, but that looks like prissiness to me. But nobody asked me.

  19. David Marjanović says

    awarding the Glascock Prize in Hooker Auditorium in Clapp Hall.

    Not bad… not bad at all.

  20. Mother Jones liked to refer to her enemy, West Virginia governor William E. Glascock, as “Crystal Peter.”

  21. My personal line is that authoring a Cox-Zucker paper is fine, and smirking and chortling at it are both fine, except in mixed groups, where the predicate being mixed across is “finds that all harmless and amusing.”

    The twelve-year-old humor needs to be plausible enough to have deniability and support motivated ignorance. And it needs to avoid “punching down”, or it gets a reevaluation. Everybody poops, some people massacre other people.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Back in the mists of time we had a guest priest at my school giving a sermon at Matins whose name was Pincock. OK, nothing obviously indelicate, but it occurred to me that one might mistakenly call him Pinprick, even less obviously indelicate (as “pinprick” is a perfectly ordinary word), except for the insight into the sub-conscious mind that it suggests.

  23. “Hey, everybody, I’d like you to meet someone.” (I still regret using the name Hermione in that joke; it threw everybody off. I’m not a Harry Potter fan, it didn’t even occur to me!)

  24. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    LL of course recently posted about pearl clutching of the Coq (programming) language community.

    Something I’ve noticed recently is that “rooster” has infected purely British sources like The Guardian, which in the past would not have been embarrassed to call a cock a cock. When I first encountered “rooster” in the USA it took me a while to understand what it meant.

    What about the Bible? Do the American faithful now read “Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, That this night, before the rooster crow, you shall deny me thrice”?

  25. Every grade school teacher in Israel who had to deal with adolescents snickering at chapter 2 of Joshua had to deal with this. Typically they would tell the kids that Rahab’s profession is not what they think it is, that zona meant someone who sold food, and would they get their minds out of the gutter. Later, in high school, the terrible truth would come out, that Rahab was indeed a prostitute, right there in the Holy Book, presented as a good person.

    Saying that cock is a bird seems easy in comparison.

  26. John Emerson says

    The chicken leg and especially breast were also renamed.

    America’s extreme puritanism about sex made it possible for unmarried women to go out in public unmolested. Alice James, sister of the famous two, was bemused by the timidity of her French friends, but they had their reasons. de Tocqueville also noted the freedom of American girls and women in the sexually-repressed American world.

  27. According to rumor, presidential candidate George W. Bush removed Republican congressman Chris Cox from his t list of potential vice presidents because of the opportunities that a Bush/Cox team would offer to headline writers. .

  28. @arthur: That seems unlikely, since it does not appear that George W. Bush had an authoritative shortlist of vice presidential candidates. Had he specified such a shortlist, Dick Cheney would probably not have been able to pick himself as Bush’s running mate.

  29. Bah. The story is unlikely, but Chris Cox appeared on various lists of potential vice presidential choices, and W. had to be making decisions about who should be given further consideration.

    See “Post Roundtable: The GOP Veepstakes”

    “Cox VP rumors heat up again”

  30. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    America’s extreme puritanism about sex made it possible for unmarried women to go out in public unmolested.

    I don’t think Chile was ever known for puritanism, let alone extreme puritanism, but my wife tells me that in her youth unmarried women were not molested in public places, and didn’t experience catcalls, bottom-pinching or being followed round by men. She was surprised to find it was quite different in Montevideo, and after the first experience she was always accompanied on the street by several male colleagues.

  31. David Marjanović says

    Nobody seems to have made “Bush & Dick” jokes. But that’s understandable. Darth Cheney just isn’t that funny.

    One lesbian couple did carry a sign saying “THE ONLY BUSH WE LIKE IS EACH OTHER’S” at a protest.

  32. o, i remember plenty of bush & dick jokes from the early 00s – but DM is more right than wrong: none were particularly good (the best one i remember is from South Park, which maybe tells you everything you need to know about the overall quality).

    and i’d never heard that Mother Jones story: makes me like her even more than i already did!

  33. David Marjanović says

    which maybe tells you everything

    It does! 🙂

  34. The creators of South Park even produced an entire TV show called “That’s my Bush”, though it was not so much a satire as a homage that happened to take the form of a workplace sitcom. Like most comedy of that era it’s at once painfully unfunny AND utterly toothless with respect to its ostensible satirical target.

  35. John Cowan says

    When I first encountered “rooster” in the USA it took me a while to understand what it meant.

    Rooster ‘that which roosts’

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