Mathematical folklore

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As the term is understood by mathematicians, folk mathematics or mathematical folklore is the body of theorems, definitions, proofs, or mathematical facts or techniques that circulate among mathematicians by word of mouth but have not appeared in print, either in books or in scholarly journals. Knowledge of folklore is the coin of the realm of academic mathematics.[original research?]

Quite important at times for researchers are folk theorems, which are results known, at least to experts in a field, and considered to have established status, but not published in complete form. Sometimes these are only alluded to in the public literature. An example is a book of exercises, described on the back cover:

This book contains almost 350 exercises in the basics of ring theory. The problems form the "folklore" of ring theory, and the solutions are given in as much detail as possible.[1]

Another distinct category is well-knowable mathematics, a term introduced by John Conway.[2] These mathematical matters are known and factual, but not in active circulation in relation with current research. Both of these concepts are attempts to describe the actual context in which research work is done.

Some people, principally non-mathematicians, use the term folk mathematics to refer to the informal mathematics studied in many ethno-cultural studies of mathematics.[citation needed]

Stories, sayings and jokes[edit]

Mathematical folklore may also refer to unusual (and possibly apocryphal) stories or jokes involving mathematicians or mathematics that are told verbally in mathematics departments. Compilations include tales collected in G. H. Hardy's A Mathematician's Apology and (Krantz 2002); examples include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Grigore Calugareau & Peter Hamburg (1998) Exercises in Basic Ring Theory, Kluwer,[ISBN 0792349180]
  2. ^ J. W. S. Cassels (1976) "An embedding theorem for fields: Addendem", Bulletin of the Australian Mathematical Society 14: 479–80 doi:10.1017/S0004972700025442