Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Burma Shave Mathematics

     One of the positive aspects of many math journals is that they are not shy about including poems that related to mathematics -- a negative aspect of that practice is that the poems are not included in the Contents listing for that publication.  And so, the fact that my poem "A Mathematician's Nightmare" appears on page 31 of the February 2001 issue of Math Horizons is lost to all but those of us who have a copy of that magazine.  Also unrecorded in these Contents is a page-full of rhymes written in response to a contest that asked for math poems composed in the style of road-side advertising for Burma Shave.  From the late 1920s to the early 1960s, US highway travelers encountered various series of small signs advertising the product.  I remember, as a child, attempting to guess what was coming next as our family car drove past a series of these signs.  Here are two examples (from Wikipedia):

   A shave / That's real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel / Burma Shave
   Past / Schoolhouses / Take it slow / Let the little / Shavers grow / Burma Shave  

Here are several of my favorites of the dozen Burma-Shave-style mathematics rhymes that I found on page 22 of Math Horizons February 2001.

   The wisdom of Cantor                        Math is awesome,
   rings through my skull,                       Functions are cool,
   the number of reals                           You can't escape it,
   Exceeds aleph-null!                            Numbers rule.
   Mathematics!                                     Mathematics!
                Seth Grossinger                                             Alison Breka 

   Calculus, Trig, and                             To multiply binomials
   Algebra too                                        You must be loyal
   No need to freak out                          To the process
   'cause it's good for you.                      Known as FOIL.
   Mathematics!                                     Mathematics!
                     Ryan Sullivan                                             Kathy Pepper

This site claims to have the complete list of Burma-Shave jingles.  WOW!
Have YOU seen a Burma-Shave sign recently?  Here's some history.


  1. The Problem
    Is Real
    But How
    Do You Deal?
    Make Sense
    To Reveal

  2. Thanks, John -- for your blog-visit AND for your contribution!