“This Is Trivial” (Or Is It?)

There was a popular anecdote about mathematician G. H. Hardy (1877 – 1947) that goes like this: While conducting a lecture on Number Theory, he said that a certain mathematical notion was trivial. But after a little while, he hesitated and asked, “Is it trivial?” He then excused himself and went to his office. After […]

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Not Honest Enough

In 1958, newspaper columnist N. S. Olds related in the Villager [Greenwich Village, New York] his conversation with poet Robert Frost (1876 – 1963) about a diverting incident in Amherst College, where Frost was a lecturer. Frost was a casual lecturer and he disliked formalities. His way of teaching English literature to his students was […]

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Oscar Wilde on Snow

Here’s an excerpt of a conversation between Oscar Wilde and a woman about snow. This is from Oscar Wilde, His Life and Wit, a biography of Wilde written by Hesketh Pearson, and published in 1949: Woman: What terrible weather we’re having. Oscar Wilde: Yes, but if it wasn’t for the snow, how could we believe […]

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When James Joyce Tried to Work in a Bank

During his youth, Irish author James Joyce was not doing well financially and he had to do several odd jobs. One time, he tried to apply in a bank. He was interviewed by the bank manager and the interview went something like this: Manager: “Do you smoke?” James: “No,” Manager: “Do you drink?” James: “No.” […]

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Real World Probability: A “Birthday Problem” Anecdote

I heard the following story from my topology professor. A renowned statistician was teaching a course in fundamental probability theory to a group of undergraduates. As expected of an introductory course, he briefly tackled several main principles of probability to give the students a bird’s-eye view of the subject. One day, he talked about the […]

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Dress Code

It can be rather awkward if you appear at an event wearing casual clothes while everyone is wearing formal attire and vice versa. Nonetheless, playwright and actor Noël Coward didn’t falter when a similar event happened to him. In 1918, Coward was invited to a gathering organized by Tomorrow Club, which was composed of literary […]

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A Stone-Cold Hoax

Melville Stone was a publisher of the Chicago Daily News during the 1870’s. In his memoir, he related the following anecdote of a hoax pulled by the Chicago Daily News against its competitor. The staff at the Daily News had a feeling that the Chicago Post and Mail, which was run by the McMullen brothers, […]

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A Study Of The English Language

The English language can be confusing, especially to foreigners who are learning it. The following curious anecdote has a good illustration regarding this, and it also contains an ingenious collection of words: A Frenchman, while looking at a number of vessels, exclaimed, ‘See what a flock of ships!’ He was told that a flock of […]

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Gleanings From The Past #54

Not Lost in Translation A ludicrous story is told of a great naval function which took place during the reign of the last Napoleon and the Empress Eugénie. Several American vessels were present, and they were drawn up in line to salute the Empress’s yacht as it passed. The French sailors, of course, manned the […]

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