Paul Sally

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Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
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Paul Sally, American mathematician, head of undergraduate math program at the University of Chicago


  • "The problem with young people nowadays is that they actually don't think that they should be doing math every day, all day."
  • "Your only excuse for missing the test is if you're dead and your funeral is that day."
  • "You must learn to think well before you learn to think, for later it will prove too difficult."
  • "The question is the answer and the answer is the question."
  • "Clarity of vision, focus of intent, rectitude of thought: these will help in mathematics. If you don't have these three things, you're doomed."
  • "One of my students once asked me what the p-adic norm measures. I told him it measures the p-ness of a rational number."
  • "A few years ago, one student told me that he was going to miss class the day before Thanksgiving. He had a flight scheduled already. I asked him what airline he was flying. He told me Southwestern. So I called them up during class, and changed his flight. At his expense I might add. The moral of the story: come to class this Wednesday."
  • "If your phone goes off in class, here's what will happen: I will take it from you and put it on the floor up here. Then, everyone will line up and get a chance to stomp on it."
  • Sally to unsuspecting student: "What do you have in that travel mug?" "Coffee, Sir." "That is good. If it was single-malt whiskey I would have to confiscate it."
  • "Now that I'm going to have a second prosthetic leg, I could be seven feet tall if I wanted to be."
  • "If there is a subset of the reals and it's cardinality is greater than aleph naught and less than C and it's Lebesgue measureable, then it has measure zero and we don't care."
  • Sally was recently spotted walking the halls on his prosthetic legs. When asked about it, he responded "Of course I'm walking. What the hell did you think?"
  • "Cool, that is!"
  • "Practice, Precision and Prayer."
  • Said a student during reading week: "Mr. Sally, you are presenting new material. That's not allowed during reading week." Mr. Sally to student: "I'm not presenting new material; in fact, this material is at least one hundred years old." Sally continues: "However, you should be more concerned that you think that this is new material."
  • "Welcome to my class. You should know that I call on people who stare at me. And, I call on people who avert my stare."
  • "No axioms: no theorems."
  • "Zappa dappa doo!"
  • "Yo, Sally!" Sally instructs his students that if they preface a mathematics-related phone call to his home after 12 am with this phrase he promises not to hang up immediately.