Alex Meiburg / Timeroot

Quantum ⊕ Physics ⊗ Algorithms

Mathematicians and physicists like to name things in very silly ways. This is a great motivator: I will often read about something just because of a fun name. I’m going to try to gather some of them here, please amuse yourself! (Contrived acronyms, especially those in astronomy and machine learning to name specific projects, are excluded. They are both too common, and usually name a particular work; I am more interested in pure mathematical objects that have been named something funny.)

A hegelian taco

We immediately found ourselves in a quandary however: although in high-energy physics author lists are almost always alphabetical, in this case it was clear to all of us that we should acknowledge the key role played by Fernando and Beni. The problem however was that doing this would destroy one of the best author acronyms any of us had ever encountered. After agonizing about this for several weeks, we decided that in the end we simply had to feature Fernando and Beni [11]. I am glad we did. Nonetheless it was a pity to lose the acronym, so we started to use it anyways to colloquially refer to the construction: thus the HaPPY code was born.

The HaPPY code

Two pair of pants decompositions Pictured: Two inequivalent pants decompositions.

We prefer the term “animated set,” or “anima” for brevity, suggested by the general naming convention: we believe the term “space,” whose origins seem to be historical, to be highly nondescriptive—it is arguable whether something as combinatorial as a simplicial set should count as a space, and also note that “spaces” in the sense of Lurie do not have an underlying set of points. Philosophically, “anima” means something like “soul”—and, indeed, the functor from topological spaces to their homotopy category extracts something like the soul of a space: it only remembers data independent of any worldly representation in terms of physical points.


Particle physicists like to give some particles amusing names.

Penguin diagram


There are many named graphs of small size. While larger important ones are often simply named after humans who studied them (e.g. “Tutte cage” or “Higman-Sims graph”), small enough ones are just given descriptive names. There are too many to refer to entirely, but some choice ones are:

Paw, Claw, Gem, Jewel, Butterfly (aka Hourglass), Fork (aka Chair), Kite, Dart, House, Bull, Cricket, Cross, “H”, “A”, “R”, “E”, “P” (graphs that look like their respective letters), Banner, Net, Domino, Fish, Antenna, Longhorn, Eiffel Tower, Rising Sun, Parachute, Parapluie.

The letter-named graphs can be remembered by the mnemonic raphe, in the unlikely event that that is a word you know. Sometimes the letter “I” is included to mean the 2-vertex complete graph. There are also some series of graphs with nice names:

Pan, Sun, Star, Triad, Spider, Wheel, Ladder, Ladder Rung, Cocktail Party, Sunlet, Crown, Apple, Bicycle, Building, Fan, Hole, Windmill, Gear, Helm, Web

Then there are classes of graphs, with certain properties. There’s Cactus graphs, Caterpillars, Lobsters, and Cop-win graphs – as in, a cop can beat a robber in a game. Graphs can be slim, slender, or even skeletal. They can be charming, graceful, harmonius, and pretty. They could be good or even perfect. They could even go beyond and be strongly perfect, very strongly perfect, or absolutely perfect. They may be murky. Finally, there are some things they can be that shouldn’t ever have become adjectives: graphs could be coin (which is synonmous with being planar), they might be visibility, or they might just be bip*.

Another important class is the Snarks, including Flower snarks.

Besides the well known terms “cycle”, “path”, and “walk” in a graph, there is the slightly less common “circuit” and the rare trail.

Some graph properties have funny names. While “tree” and “leaf” are pretty common, there’s also arboricity, foliage and foliage partitions.

Some graph properties are evasive. The scorpion graphs showed that there are some interesting highly non-evasive properties, disproving a conjecture.


People like to name particular curves.



Some surfaces are mentioned in other places on the page (like Labs septic or the Klein bottle).

A gomboc


Sometimes a name is funny not deliberately, but because it is named after someone whose name was already a word. How funny or surprising this can be is entirely dependent on how familiar the name is a word vs as a name. For instance, most native English speakers will not think “Taylor polynomial”, “Smith number”, or “Stone duality” sound funny, even though “tailor”, “smith”, and “stone” are all words (each of them a noun and verb!). My bias here in terms of what I find funny is certainly a function of what languages I know and how well. Please email me with suggestions!

Two German leberknodeln in a bowl of beef stock soup Pictured: A bipartite Knödel grap

Some names are only “schoolboy funny”.

Dirtier jokes

  1. One would think that the “s” in a particle name stands for “super-“ or “symmetric partner”. Wikipedia claims that the s actually stands for “scalar”, because the particles are spin-0 and therefore scalar fields. I’m skeptical, and can’t find a citation. Bosons get a different naming convention, where the final “-on” is changed to “-ino”, e.g. photino