Main Mathematicians Answer Discussion

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08:55:32 PM Jan 3rd 2014
This trope seems to me to have become a mix of Mathemetician's Answers, ambiguous "yes" answers, and actual answers that aren't useless and don't fit into this trope. To be clear:

A mathemetician's answer is not ambiguous, merely useless. Eg. "What time is it?" "Now" (from the xkcd comic)

An ambiguous yes is not useless, just momentarily confusing. Eg. "The beer, or me?" "Yes." (from the beer advertisement)

And some things are neither. Eg. "A few strips later there is an even purer example - this time directed at Belkar." Dialogue in question: "Do I get to cause the death of any of the following: [some names]." "Yes." (I removed that posting from the main page already)

Can we clean this up?
06:53:53 PM Nov 12th 2014
edited by
The "[one] or [other]" "Yes." thing is a Mathematician's Answer, since it's an answer that is useless but technically answers the question as it was asked. It doesn't matter if it's ambiguous or not.

And yes, it is useless, because it doesn't necessarily mean [one] specifically, [other] specifically, or both, just that the entire clause "[one] or [other]" is correct.
11:01:57 AM Sep 2nd 2015
There's a difference between the mathematician's answer to "A or B", which is giving an OR answer to an XOR question, and the yes-to-all answer, which is giving an AND answer to an XOR question.

The latter is still a useful response, as it implies that all of the choices given in the question are true, if each in their own different way. So it's not really a mathematician's answer, which by definition is correct, but useless in that it doesn't answer the 'implied' question.

"A or B?" "Yes." requires context to determine whether it's a mathematician's answer or not, which most other examples don't require.
08:34:44 PM Sep 5th 2011

Monty: Dad, is there a word to describe answers that are completely correct but entirely useless under the circumstances?
Prof. Jones: Yes, yes there is.

Is there actually such a word, and if so, what is it?
08:45:55 PM Jan 3rd 2014
Apparently the word is "Mathemetician's Answer," or at least that's what I got from the exchange.
04:45:15 PM Feb 22nd 2011
Examples include questions involving "can you ...?" or "will you ...?" as these are (colloquially) requests that the ... be done, whereas they literally mean "are you able to ...?" and "are you willing to ..." respectively.

I'm not a native English speaker, but shouldn't it read the following instead?

Examples include questions involving "can you ...?" or "will you ...?" as these are (colloquially) requests that the ... be done, whereas they literally mean "are you able to ...?" and "are you going to ..." respectively.
08:32:50 PM Sep 5th 2011
edited by RedWren
Sort of. Technically, if you take "are you going to..." as a native English speaker would, then yeah. But given the page's context, "I am going to..." would imply there's no set time frame—"will you...?" generally comes with a time frame by implication, usually within a few seconds or minutes. "I am going to..." on this particular page might carry an "I will perform this action at some point in time most likely prior to my death" implication.

My two cents, both should just be called polite order forms, but there's not a great way to communicate that fact that doesn't rely on knowledge of grammar vocabulary. The original writer was probably working a way around that.
04:53:35 PM Jan 23rd 2014
"Will you..." has an archaic meaning "do you wish/intend to..." (see Shakespeare for examples). The strict sense of referring to a future event is "shall you...", which Shakespeare would have understood and which we now consider slightly pretentious.
03:05:10 PM May 24th 2010
There are a lot of items on this page (including the Babylon 5 page quote) that do not apply. If the answer can be replaced with the word "Both," then it's not a useless answer, and uselessness is required to be a Mathematician's Answer. Kosh specifically meant both the Narn and Centauri, so his answer is not useless; it's brief. The second page quote is a good example of the trope. The mathematician's answer in the joke is actually useless, as it is incredibly specific and absurd.
10:34:28 PM May 24th 2010
I disagree. In general, the question "A or B?" can correctly be answered with "Yes" if only A is true; if only B is true; or if A and B are both true. Answering "A or B" with "Yes" when both A and B are true is still a Mathematician's Answer, because it doesn't clarify to the person who asked whether A only, B only, or both A and B are true.

"Would you like coffee or tea?" "Yes." is a valid example of Mathematician's Answer if the person wanted coffee, or if he wanted tea, or if he wanted coffee and tea.
06:51:26 PM Oct 20th 2010
edited by Johann7
I agree with Devil's Advocate; the specific cases result from the lack of differentiation between OR and XOR in English, which is mentioned. In fact, the Babylon 5 example is a perfect example in that the answer is a correct answer to the question-as-asked (allowing for inclusive OR) but NOT as intended (since speakers usually mean XOR, and will say "and/or" to specify OR). On a related note, the section that acknowledges this in the article seems to imply that differentiation between OR and XOR in some languages resolves the mathematician's answer of "yes," which it does not in fact do as long as one and only one of the items is correct in an XOR question or one, the other, or both of the answers is correct in an OR question. For example, the coffee/tea question is INTENDED to be "Would you like coffee or tea, and if so which would you like?" I do think the OR/XOR differentiation is interesting and occasionally relevant to the trope, so I don't think the line should be scrapped, but it does need to be re-worded.
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