My knowledge of geometry is just a little bit above high school level and I know absolutely nothing about topology. So, what is the point of this meme?

meme about birds "talking"

(Original unedited webcomic: “Juncrow” by False Knees)

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    $\begingroup$ One difference in the geometers text is working in some system of coordinates, using a metric. Maybe that's the point - topologist is coordinate agnostic and more brief. $\endgroup$
    – Džuris
    Jun 3, 2018 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Why in the world do we not have a (memes) tag?! $\endgroup$
    – Wojowu
    Jun 3, 2018 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ If it's any consolation, I have been a mathematician for almost 30 years and I have no idea what the joke is supposed to be. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2018 at 21:29
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    $\begingroup$ Once we are at it, there is a nice story about a topologist drinking tea. He drinks tea from a clay cup. Suddenly the handle breaks off. "Very strange"-says the topologist-"the shape of the cup is now completely different but one can still drink tea from it". He drinks one more cup and the bottom of the cup drops off. "Just unbelievable"-says the topologist-"the shape is back to the original but one cannot drink tea from it anymore!" As to the meme, I would say that topologists use nice notation for incomprehensible objects while geometers use incomprehensible notation for nice objects. $\endgroup$
    – fedja
    Jun 19, 2018 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think a topologist will define the first chern class via the curvature form tho. $\endgroup$
    – user113988
    Jun 19, 2018 at 4:10

2 Answers 2


The topologist bird is stating some nice simple topological concepts. The geometer bird comes along and interrupts the topologist bird, squawking loudly over the top with something much longer, more complex-looking and uglier, involving iterated partial derivatives, multiple nested subscripts and superscripts, and so on. The topologist bird looks pissed off.

The meme was probably made by a topologist, in a frustrated attempt to convey "why do geometers always overcomplicate things?" or "why is geometry so ugly?" or "why do geometers always talk over topologists?" or something along those lines. (As in most memes, this probably isn't an entirely fair reflection of reality.)

I imagine a geometer could make a meme in reverse that implied "why do topologists always take nice things like doughnuts and turn them into coffee cups and start calculating their cohomology?".

I don't think there's anything deep going on here. The contents of the speech bubbles don't actually mean much as sentences. They're just some common expressions that you find in topology and geometry respectively, thrown together.

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    $\begingroup$ Or the idea may be. What the topologist sings is pretty abstract algebra (or pretty, abstract algebra?) whereas the crowing contains - yuk! - expressions involving the dirty reality of real or complex numbers. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2018 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ @HagenvonEitzen Abstract Algebra is a collective noun so the Oxford comma doesn’t make sense. $\endgroup$ Jun 4, 2018 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ It's not an Oxford comma. It's an attempt to ensure that 'pretty' is taken as a second adjective for 'algebra' as opposed to an adverb modifying 'abstract', as it is in the first occurrence. It's not technically correct written English, but it's a pretty good reflection of the pause that one would use in spoken English to make the distinction. $\endgroup$
    – JonathanZ
    Jun 11, 2018 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ If only someone - mathematicians, say - would come up with a form of punctuation that clearly marks the order of precedence when dealing with nonassociative operations! $\endgroup$
    – Billy
    Jun 11, 2018 at 10:12
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    $\begingroup$ Ha! I've found that with linguists, and some programmers and mathematicians, I can use parentheses to encode the underlying syntax tree of a sentence. Everyone else gets confused and angry. $\endgroup$
    – JonathanZ
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:33

I rebut your meme with a meme of my own

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Hey! Spectral sequences are beautiful! $\endgroup$
    – Max
    Jun 19, 2018 at 3:07
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose both subjects have their "elegant" bits... and their scarier bits. :) $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2018 at 8:36

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