abstract nonsense

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English[edit]

Etymology[edit]

Coined by Norman Steenrod, popularized by Serge Lang.

Noun[edit]

abstract nonsense (uncountable)

  1. (mathematics, humorous) Details which are straightforward but so tedious that an author or lecturer would rather skip them (especially those of a category theoretical nature).
  2. (mathematics, humorous) Details which involve diagram chasing.
    • 2016, Emily Riehl, Category Theory in Context (Aurora: Dover modern math originals)‎[1], New York: Dover, →ISBN, OCLC 976394474, page x:
      3Lang’s Algebra [Lan02, p. 759] supports the general consensus that this was not intended as an epithet:
      In the forties and fifties (mostly in the works of Cartan, Eilenberg, MacLane, and Steenrod, see [CE56]), it was realized that there was a systematic way of developing certain relations of linear algebra, depending only on fairly general constructions which were mostly arrow-theoretic, and were affectionately called abstract nonsense by Steenrod.
  3. (mathematics, humorous) Category theory in general.

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