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Saucepan Reasoning


Two weeks ago, I wrote again post about the edible idiom feature at Clotilde Dusoulier’s blog Chocolate & Zucchini, in which she discusses a French idiom related in some way to food or cooking. Once more I can’t resist writing about her latest, which this week is “Raisonner comme une casserole.” Clotilde offers the translation “reasoning like a saucepan” and the explanation that “it means demonstrating poor logic, formulating arguments that are evidently flawed. It is a colloquial expression that should only be used in informal conversation.” She goes on to reveal the underlying pun, which becomes merely a near-pun in English:

It’s not hard to imagine that debating philosophical matters with a saucepan would lead you nowhere, but there is actually a little more to this idiom than that: it is in fact a pun that plays upon two homophonous verbs, raisonner, which means to reason, and résonner, which means to resound. So when you say, “il raisonne comme une casserole,” it is really a double entendre, meaning that the person has as much sense as a saucepan, but also implying that if you banged him on the head, it would likely echo.

I should explain that I may have been particularly charmed by this expression because I graded the last homework assignment and the final exams for my spring quarter course in the two days before Clotilde’s post appeared. The course is named Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning. It is intended to prepare students who have taken our standard lower-level math courses (calculus, linear algebra, differential equations) for the more rigorous courses that lie ahead. I had something to do with the department’s decision to introduce this course a decade ago, but by the time we started offering it, I had begun my multi-year teaching hiatus. Now that I’m back in the classroom, teaching it seemed like a good idea.

I would prefer to adhere to my general policy of not discussing my teaching experiences here at ronsview. I’ll restrict myself to two points. First, I’ve been humbled by the discovery (or, really, re-discovery) of how hard it is to teach reasoning. Second, I’ve had the opportunity to hear a lot of saucepan reasoning. My ears are still resounding.

Categories: Language, Math, Teaching
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