The day before yesterday, some of us got into a discussion at a party after work about trinomial lattices, which are a type of financial derivative (option) pricing model.
Don’t tell ME actuaries don’t know how to party.
I mean, we don’t, but don’t tell me.
As the office’s resident wordsmith, I got asked at some point exactly what a “lattice” is. I said it’s an interweave or other regular geometric arrangement of some kind, depending on context.
PERSON, LOOKING AT PHONE: “He’s right.”
OTHER PERSON, LOOKING AT ME: “Why would anyone know that?”
ME: “There are twenty of us at a bar in Columbus, Georgia discussing derivative pricing theory, and my knowing the meaning of a common architectural term is what needs explaining?”
To be a mathematician in America means ignoring every signal our society can send about the social undesirability of being a nerd. Many fall off along the way; where I work, we end up recruiting roughly 1/3rd of our employees from other countries.
How much people hate math or think that learning it is useless is a frequent humor trope in this country:
Even I have to admit that’s pretty damn funny.
Still, it can be hard sticking your head up in class at age 10 and say, “this long division stuff is awesome!” when everyone else in the class hates it. There are related areas, such as computer programming, that bear much less stigma, so children gravitate there, instead.
The economic result of this, of course, is that we don’t have enough mathematicians, and the few of us there are get paid pretty well. Which we then spend at bars after work in order to carry on somewhat surreal and obscure discussions.
As a writer, I identify myself as a poet, because being a mathematician didn’t make me enough of an outcast.
As a poet, I spend an inordinate amount of time on word shading. I like to know as many synonyms for any word as possible.
When I was driving my middle daughter to high school every day some years back, we’d play a game where we’d see who could think of the most synonyms for whatever random word came up in the conversation. She still remembers with relish the first time she beat me at it.
It was a proud moment for me, too, but showing it would have spoiled her fun, so I didn’t.
This same daughter, now grown and working at the same company I do, asked me the other day for a synonym for “psychedelic”.
ME: “I’m surprised you don’t just use thesaurus.com.”
HER: “You are thesaurus.com.”
I threw out the words “multicolored”, “trippy”, and “psychoactive” as suggestions. She decided to use the one she’d never heard of before, as it turns out she was writing something satirical about people who inappropriately use obscure words no one has ever heard of.
I wonder where she learned about people like that.