ADS-L on Language Log

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 12 01:12:59 UTC 2008

I don't know the the dating, here, but the Feynman story may well have
inspired the cartoon. Also, my memory of the cartoon is spotty. It may
very well be the case that, as in the story, it's Prof. B who agrees
that the analysis is indeed obvious.


On Mon, Aug 11, 2008 at 7:16 PM, James Harbeck <jharbeck at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       James Harbeck <jharbeck at SYMPATICO.CA>
> Subject:      Re: ADS-L on Language Log
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>Remember that old cartoon - from The NY-er, I believe - featuring two
>>profs? It went something like this:
>>Prof. A to Prof. B:
>>"It's obvious."
>>Nevertheless, having second thoughts, A proceeds to fill two walls of
>>blackboard with abstruse mathematical calculations. After he finishes,
>>he turns back to B and reiterates:
>>"Yes. It's obvious."
> Oh, Richard Feynman, in _Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman_, has an
> anecdote just like that:
> ----
> At the Princeton  graduate school, the physics department  and the math
> department shared  a  common lounge, and every day at four o'clock we  would
> have  tea.  It  was a  way of  relaxing  in the  afternoon, in  addition  to
> imitating  an  English  college.  People  would sit  around  playing  Go, or
> discussing theorems. In those days topology was the big thing.
>      I still  remember  a guy  sitting on the couch, thinking very hard, and
> another guy standing in  front of him,  saying, "And therefore such-and-such
> is true."
>      "Why is that?" the guy on the couch asks.
>      "It's trivial! It's  trivial!"  the standing guy says, and  he  rapidly
> reels  off a series of logical steps: "First you assume thus-and-so, then we
> have Kerchoff's this-and-that; then there's Waffenstoffer's Theorem,  and we
> substitute this and construct that. Now you put the vector which goes around
> here and  then thus-and-so..."  The  guy  on  the  couch  is  struggling  to
> understand  all  this stuff, which goes on at high speed for  about  fifteen
> minutes!
>      Finally the  standing  guy comes out the other end, and the guy  on the
> couch says, "Yeah, yeah. It's trivial."
> ----
> James Harbeck.
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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