Here we collect some of the most memorable quotes from Paul SallyEdit


"When I ask you the distance from point A to point B, you respond with 'What metric? Sir!' ".  -1988

"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."

"You must learn to think well before you learn to think, for later it will prove too difficult."

"The question is the answer."

"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!"

"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."

"If you're going to teach mathematics, you had better know some."

"[T]o actually be good at math you have to practice, you have to take it seriously, and you have to be willing to spend time working at it. And all of these are very difficult for students and for humans in general. And they don’t understand that you should never confuse activity with achievement. Many people spend a lot of time early in their math careers, early in their math days, in the classroom, working at it extensively, saying, 'I worked three hours on math last night.' Well, if they didn’t achieve anything, that’s activity, that’s not achievement.... And if you don’t get it right, you have failed." (Chicago Maroon interview)


"You tell him he had better behave.  If he doesn't, I will kick his ass.  And I don't have to go there to do it...I can send my leg!" -1997

"Now that I'm going to have a second prosthetic leg, I could be seven feet tall if I wanted to be."

"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."

"Your only excuse for missing the test is if you're dead and your funeral is that day."

"When you're at Brandeis, and you meet an Irish lass named Judith Flanagan Donovan, it's all over," (

On Gwynyth Paltrow while consulting for the movie Proof: "A lovely young lady. I told her she was the second best-looking graduate school student in mathematics since I had been here. The best one was my wife, by far. I made sure she understood that." (Chicago Maroon 2009)