Judith Q. Longyear

Here’s what I know about mathematics : it’s hard. I also know it tends to involve numbers, but not for those who are really good at it. For them there are only letters and graphs and some Greek stuff. I could do Greek, being more of a language person, but not this kind of Greek, where you take one letter of the alphabet and divide it with another, just to figure out exactly how much you should exert yourself if you wanted to toss a fictional doughnut fifty yards away. No, I’ll just eat the doughnut instead, thank you very much.

Some other people are better at math. One of these people was the finely named Judith Querida Longyear. Her unusual last name already suggested some sort of fine math promise and she fully lived up to it, what with her Ph.D in mathematics from Penn State and professorship at several American universities.

My theory on this graph is that it’s unnecessary.

Wikipedia tells me she specialized in Combinatorics, which I believe is the science used in putting Robocop together, as well as Graph Theory, which sounds more straightforward, but is actually full of loops and curves. She wrote or co-wrote such thrillers as “Hadamard tournaments of order 23“, with Dr. John Grisham, as well as “Some isomorphisms between pairs of Latin squares“, which is being prepped for a movie this fall with Denzel Washington to star as a leading isomorphism. If you have any idea of  what any of this means, I will take a few weeks off so you can explain it to me.

Ms. Longyear also lived an…interesting private life. Her son, Bear Longyear (an even better name), had this to say about her :

She didn’t shop, clean house, dress up, or even cook much; she spent most of every day curled up in an old armchair with a mug of coffee, a pack of cigarettes, a pile of sharp pencils, and a yellow legal pad, upon which she doodled the hours away in a miniscule [sic] hand, occasionally cursing quietly or whooping loudly.

Judith’s son, Bear Longyear.

When he would ask her what she was up to, her answers were apparently always “incomprehensible”. I would believe that, considering the answers given to me by my 8th grade math teacher fit into that same category, and I don’t believe he was exactly what you would call a genius.

Having spent the last hour or so reading through some of these math theorems, I can’t say I understand them at all, but I must say I am very pleased at some of the names these people come up with to describe their ideas. If you call your obscure theory Monstrous Moonshine, you’ve upped the probability of me clicking on the wikipedia link by 74%.


About Arto

Co-founder of the Funny Names Blog, Hawaiian shirt enthusiast, and holder of a funny name himself with too many vowels for any sensible person. Currently residing in San Diego, California, scouring through obscure documents on a hunt for more funny names. www.funnynamesblog.wordpress.com
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29 Responses to Judith Q. Longyear

  1. So I read Longyear and about Denzel and a movie, but Dude, there was some gibberish about isms and morphing that I got lost 😉

    Thank you for sharing and the new found knowledge!

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  3. paralaxvu says:

    Hey, I see the symmetry of the Y axis…both sides of the chart are equally incomprehensible…it’s why my degree is in English;-)

  4. Bumba says:

    How’s this?

    Rene Descartes, the lazy, on-his-back Frenchman, saw a fly walking on the ceiling and thought how a grid superimposed on the ceiling could actually describe the fly’s position at at point in time. Not only did Rene Descartes get a patent on graph paper (fly paper had yet to be invented), but he formed a bridge between geometry and mathematics, which had undergone a divorce proceeding nearly two thousand years earlier. An equation could now be described physically and vice versa. Both the equation and the graph (with its slope and even with its differentials) are manifestations of the same thing – whatever that is.

    • Arto says:

      That’s a good story, and it’s great that someone actually got to be a “fly on the wall” for it when it happened. Ba-dump-tss.

  5. The math problem or is it an equation, who knows it made me nauseous. Judy has issues and really should have gotten out more.

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  15. Laura Hahn Johnson says:

    Yes! This is her, uh, she! This is Judy Longyear! I would so love to see her once again and thank her for her influence on my life!

    She was a graduate student at Penn State and I was taking Dummy Math for the mathematically challenged. My dad was a math professor at Penn State, but I was math-impaired. This was in the early ’60’s. Although I wasn’t able to learn much at that time, I did get from Judy just how WONDERFUL math is. She fired me up. Not only did she get me to make a promise to myself (some time before I die, I will learn math – will learn algebra and then calculus and then, with luck, some higher math – at age 68, or was it 69? I did finally learn some algebra – sometimes we learn better when we are old than when we are young).

    And she was so deliciously eccentric!! I became a suffering and stultified housewife, but Judy Longyear was a model of an intelligent and self-directed woman. Her image remains with me. I’m 73 now, and I googled her name in the hopes of finding out where she is.

    I have a debt of gratitude to pay her.

    • Arto says:

      This is a wonderful comment – we’re always delighted to hear from people who have personally known the subjects of our posts! We’re mostly a humorous tongue-in-cheek blog but always try to express just how impressed we are with the people we’re writing about. This is doubly true with Ms. Longyear as, like yourself, I am also “mathematically challenged”.

      Thank you for the extra information and the personal stories!

      • Laura Hahn Johnson says:

        Well Hello, Arto…like I said in my post following my first, I went Googling and made the sad discovery that Judy died way back in 1995 or so. Age 57 or thereabouts.

        Even though I haven’t seen her since I was so young I’m still feeling a loss, as if I’d just gotten the news that a friend died. Even though we weren’t friends.

        The year was 1959, and I was a freshman at Penn State. I signed up for fencing class as my athletic requirement, sword fighting, whoopie! And there was another student, I do believe she was a senior and getting that requirement in, too. Sword fighting!

        She was Judy Chouinard at that time. I can’t be sure, for sure, but I do think there was a baby boy. Of course my memory may be all wrong. Would this be Bear?

        I was quite fascinated by her. She was not a pretty woman at all, a skinny sort of woman with dishwater colored hair, pale blue eyes behind glasses, and a pointy nose. And Wow, there was a kind of energy about her, a kind of driving intelligence, a kind of charisma.

        She would have been? a senior? do the math, she was three years older than me. Not a junior..I don’t think, counting on my fingers, she was a September 1938 model, and I’m September 1941 model…mathematically challenged…

        What a role model! Umm…this is the First Time I’ve ever said this! Ever! Gym class, locker rooms…I imitated her and went out and bought the same kind of bra she was wearing. Yes! I did! Get some of her mojo by wearing the same kind of underwear! But what do you expect from a sheltered eighteen year old girl enchanted by such a worldly and eccentric Older Student?

        And we did the fencing class and time passed and having an ability in language (and none in math, to my mathematician father’s distress) I studied German and got good enough that you could drop me in Germany and I could get around with just a pocket dictionary in very short order (which is exactly what happened).

        More time passed and by now Judy was a graduate student. I had to take Dummy Math, it was a requirement, Do I have to??? Yes! But I don’t understand math! So you take Dummy Math precisely because you don’t understand.

        And who was the teacher but Judy! Now her name was Longyear, which was her maiden name, and she was a graduate student. I told my dad (a math professor, as I said in my other post) that I knew my teacher, but under another name. She was divorced from Chouinard and had gone back to her own name, my dad told me.

        (Oh, and by coincidence, my three-years-younger sister was away in boarding school at that time with Judy’s younger sister Jan.)

        Being Mathematically Challenged I struggled like all hell. Never mind that I was getting A grades in German, in math I was a dud, a flop.

        One day I said to Judy how interested and excited I was to be learning irregular German verbs.

        Judy looked down at me, down that pointy nose (although she was no taller than I am, but it still felt down) down through those glasses, with those pale blue eyes (not a pretty woman at all, but perhaps beauty would have been a distraction from BRAINS, which she had in abundance), and explained to me, I obviously suffering from Terminal Ignorance, that MATHEMATICS is far superior to any possible kind of verb in the German language.

        I was chastised. But Judy was right.

        Transfinite Numbers. Different kinds of Infinity. (And who knows what next?)

        Say what? Different kinds of Infinity?

        Judy managed to convey to me her excitement about math. I couldn’t understand it, but I could feel that there was something there that I wasn’t getting. I didn’t learn anything (got a C or C-, at least I passed Dummy Math and got that requirement in, but don’t ask me what on earth I actually LEARNED), but I’d been set on fire.

        There’s something here. Judy Longyear set me on fire. I don’t understand this, but there’s something seriously wonderful going on here. And I didn’t get it.

        As a young person I couldn’t do math to save my life. I couldn’t learn Algebra if my life depended on it. Why the hell study this thing? But Judy lit a fire under me.


        The math class was over, it was May or June. I was married and had a baby girl (who is now a stupendous and wonderful middle-aged woman who to me is The Best Person In The World), and there I was in Grant’s Dime Store (no longer exists, long gone). I was in Grant’s Dime Store, and Judy was there. Either she didn’t see me or didn’t want to socialize with me, uh, but, uh, we’re talking Severe Eccentricity here, she went into the try-on-clothes cubicle and tried on some shorty pajamas.

        She came out wearing the damn pajamas and carrying her street clothes over her arm! She went to the checkout and paid for the pajamas, and walked out wearing them.

        She didn’t acknowledge me or say Hello.

        We’re talking Major Eccentricity here.

        But as I said in my previous post, by that time I was a desperately unhappy and suffering Married Woman With A Child (a baby girl, who is now a stupendously super-duper Middle-Aged Woman, and the Best Person I have ever known), and I was totally miserable.

        And here’s that genius, she has to have a Genius IQ, this woman doing this Totally Eccentric Thing, High Weirdness…once again Judy Longyear set me on fire. Yeah, it’s weird, seriously weird, but I was suffering (some people should not be married), and Judy gave me some mojo that has stayed with me all my life. You do your thing. You are your own person. Judy stayed with me in my memory.

        Fast forward many years to me at age 68-69 or so. I was given a book about how to “Teach Yourself Algebra”.

        I remembered Judy. Weird person, but juju, mojo like this is of immeasurable value to someone who feels totally stuck.

        And I worked my way through that book. And I tasted the magic!

        I quickly found out that we old people learn differently that young people. Things that made no sense when I was a teenager in Algebra class now work perfectly.

        And I felt joy! I learned Algebra as an old lady! Finally I felt the exhilaration of Mathematics that Judy felt (and my dad, he was a mathematician) – of course a Beginner’s exhilaration, small by comparison, but at last I saw a glimpse of the World Judy Longyear lived in.

        But I saw it! The Beginning Glimpse of what she saw.

        Thank you, Judy! I’m heartbroken that you died! I so wanted to come to some damn Math Get-Together at Penn State and find you there and run up to you and thank you for being a life-long influence…

        But I can’t.

        I tried to find Bear Longyear so as to be able to tell him that his mother had a lasting and important influence on a student….

        I’m Computer Challenged, and maybe I’ll find Bear, and maybe not. But I wish he could know that his mother was a Person Of Immense Importance To Someone.

        Some nineteen years later, I’m grieving Judy Longyear’s death. I grieve for her today as if she had died yesterday.



        (And since this is a Weird Name Blog, my grandmother’s name was Artemisia Vanmeter Hannah LaBarre. But not now, it’s bedtime, later, I can tell you about her name and why I’m Laura, not Mary Lee, and she was Artemisia, not Mary Lee, but my mother was Mary Lee, and my daughter was (till she legally changed her name) was Mary Lee.)

  16. Laura Hahn Johnson says:

    I’m so distressed!! More googling tells me that Judy Longyear has died, and quite some time ago! 1995. I’ll never get to thank her for her influence!

  17. Gus says:

    Of course her son’s name is Robin. And I thought she had a very pretty mounth.

  18. Laura Hahn Johnson says:

    Gus? You knew her and saw her mouth? Pretty? And now that you mention it I wonder if you are right and that Bear’s name is Robin. He would be in his mid-50’s now. I would really like to hear more if you can tell me more. Judy had a lifelong influence on me. She’s an Important Person to me.

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