Those Fun Paper Titles

Scanning the listings on the arxiv just now, I found what has to be the best paper title I’ve seen for a while:

“Would Bohr be born if Bohm were born before Born?”

It is a paper by H. Nikolic, in the history of physics classification, and I have not read it, but I love the title. It’s brilliant!

This reminds me of the process that happens to me sometimes when I’m working on a research project. I suddenly think of a really great title, and then get excited about finishing the project so that I can write the paper with that title! (You’ll have noticed that I do that with some of my blog posts too.) It’s often just a nice turn of phrase, like three of my favourites “The Enhançon and the consistency of excision”, and “Anatomy of a duality”, and “Is string theory a theory of strings?”

…At other times it is a pun of some sort. Sometimes I chicken out and don’t use the title, for fear of future lack of searchability, or as a cheap compromise (often with my co-authors) a subtitle with more conventional words gets added, like in “Clearing the throat: Irrelevant operators and finite temperature in large N gauge theory”, or “D-brane – Anti-D-brane Forces in Plane Wave Backgrounds: A Fall From Grace” (the latter title got changed when it turned out that the effect giving rise to the fall from grace (D-branes losing their halo… never mind, you had to be there) was as result of a misinterpretation of our computation.

In fact, looking at my list of publications, it seems that I chicken out of the ones that go for the pun, in favour of more conservative titles more often than not. Sometimes I think of titles and just hope one day that I’ll work on something that allows me to use that title. I’ve still got some saved up.

There are several paper titles in my field that I remember liking a lot. A few from the “modern era” are:

  • “The Heterotic Life of the D-Particle” (Danielsson and Ferretti), is one of my all time favourites. It just trips off the tongue nicely, and reminds me of the excellent “The Double Life of Véronique”, by Krzysztof Kieslowski, although I don’t know if that is what they had in mind.
  • “Pure States Don’t Wear Black”, (R. Myers) is another. Was he riffing on Carl Reiner’s “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid”, I wonder? I must ask him.
  • “Dielectric Branes” (R. Myers), is extremely good, given how much physics is communicated in the title too, although it was supposed to be “”D(ielectric) Branes”, which would have been even better given the puns that were going around at the time using brackets to give an alternative “explanation” for a letter in a name, like “M(atrix)-theory”: I’m not sure why Rob did not go with the brackets in the end. He and I had discussed this physics extensively – he even has credited me with suggesting early on that the Myers effect described in this paper was a sort of dielectric effect …I think he’s way too generous about that… In any case I don’t recall exactly, although I do recall getting excited about the title.
  • “D(NA) Branes”, (Hellerman and McGreevy) is another excellent one along the same lines. (I’m still amused by their note in the acknowledgments “It has been brought to our attention that the title of our paper was discovered independently [9]”. ref.[9] is to yours truly.)

I’m sure I’ve forgotten several. Can you think of any? Already used, or ones that would be amusing if they were used? Any research field will do…


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25 Responses to Those Fun Paper Titles

  1. Moshe says:

    I remember that abstract starting with “This is a series of remedial lectures on open and unoriented strings for the heterotic string generation”, and ending with the promise “There will be no puns”. Why not?

  2. Clifford says:

    I think some of us were very “punned-out” already, starting with Joe’s series of lectures. Long before D-brane based puns began to spread around the world, we had already seen too many of them. One of my favourites from a few months beyond that time was Atish Dabholkhar (I think) wanting to call a half-D-brane (it was stuck at a singularity and had half the allowed charge) a “moron”. That works so well on a number of levels (think… in field theory “meron” = half instanton, etc….).

    Oh, those were the days…..


  3. Graduate Student says:

    Here are some of my favourites

    “Beauty and the Twist: The Bethe Ansatz for Twisted N=4 SYM”
    N. Beisert, R. Roiban

    “The taming of the alpha-vacuum”
    Hael Collins

    “One Ring to Rule Them All … and in the Darkness Bind Them?”
    Iosif Bena, Nicholas P. Warner

    “Black Saturn”
    Henriette Elvang, Pau Figueras

  4. Mary Cole says:

    My daughter came out with a rather amazing statement the other day – ‘Maybe Daddy’s an Alien’! I can’t remember what prompted this comment, but it caused us great amusement and we thought at the time that this would make a great title for a short story. As far as academic publications are concerned, although it contains no pun, one of the most memorable titles I have come across is ‘Who cares if you listen?’ by Milton Babbitt. Interestingly, it wasn’t Babbitt’s own title, but the publication caused quite a stir at the time (1958), partly I think because of the provocative title. It’s still worth a read today as it looks at the relationship between composer and society.

  5. Clifford says:

    Interesting…. What was concluded in the paper? Who was identified as caring?



  6. Hehe, loved those. I do sometimes get some childish amusement from reading the titles and abstracts of HEP papers because of the jargon (childish because I know I don’t know what the jargon means, and I’m just working on what the word means in “normal” speech), although I can’t bring any examples to mind just now. Also find that physicists, not just their papers, sometimes have fun names…eg, Dwork, Picard, Fuchs, etc.


  7. Yajnavalkya says:

    Here’re some of my favourites:

    The Tachyon at the end of the universe.
    John McGreevy, Eva Silverstein (SLAC & Stanford U., Phys. Dept.) . SU-ITP-05-22, Published in JHEP 0508:090,2005.
    e-Print Archive: hep-th/0506130
    Things fall apart: Topology change from winding tachyons.
    A. Adams (Jefferson Lab) , X. Liu, J. McGreevy, A. Saltman, Eva Silverstein (SLAC &
    Published in JHEP 0510:033,2005.
    e-Print Archive: hep-th/0502021
    Strings from tachyons: The c=1 matrix reloaded.
    John McGreevy, Herman L. Verlinde
    Published in JHEP 0312:054,2003.
    e-Print Archive: hep-th/0304224
    Decapitating tadpoles.
    Allan Adams (Stanford U., Phys. Dept. & SLAC) , John McGreevy (Stanford U., Phys. e-Print Archive: hep-th/0209226
    Invasion of the giant gravitons from Anti-de Sitter space.
    John McGreevy, Leonard Susskind, Nicolaos Toumbas (Stanford U., Phys. Dept.) .
    Published in JHEP 0006:008,2000.
    e-Print Archive: hep-th/0003075

    Then of course, a bit offtopic, but there are some spoof papers, I just love reading these ones again and again at Siegel’s home page under the Physics parodies section.

  8. Clifford says:

    Bee! That list is rather good! Although a lot of them are just going for the silliness factor, which is sort of a different goal… Thanks!

    Yajnavalkya: Quite a list! Yes, I’ve noticed that John McGreevy is quite a fan of the fun title, and is clearly good at getting his collaborators to join in the fun…

    Graduate Student:- Yes, Nick and Iosef are very very pleased with that title!

    IP:- Ah, the names. Some can be fun, yes, but I generally stay away from names of people so as not to offend – it’s a very international climate we are in. What I’d like to see is some amusing combinations of names. I’d give a lot to see a paper by Banks, Easther, and Svendson, for example. You can use SPIRES to figure out why that would be an excellent authorship.


  9. I think they’re great names — would love to have a fun name like that.


  10. Clifford says:

    No, No… look at the combination of their first names….. that’s where the joke is…


  11. Clifford says:

    Ok, it’s possible you don’t know how to use SPIRES, so I’ll say…The paper would be by Tom, Dick, and Harry, you see. That would be a blast!


    P.S. Not as sophisticated as the classic Alpher, Bethe, and Gamov paper, of course, but sophistication can be overrated. 🙂

  12. pedant says:

    Bethe was indeed a prankster when it came to papers etc. His contribution to Die Naturwissenchaften, Vol. 19, 39-40 (1931) is a p*ss take from beginning to end; the editor ticked him and his co-authors off in regal style in the next issue. More recently, a paper appeared in Journal of Statistical Physics from the pen of one (Italian speakers avert their gazes now) Stronzo Bestiale, and two prominent AMerican physicists. (and no, it wasn’t about strings). The Editor’s shame and rage, to which he gave vent in the enxt issue, were only too evident.

  13. Amara says:

    You can discuss these papers at a forum designed to discuss ArXiv papers, did you know? Just put a “1” after the arxiv title. (To participate in the forum, you must register.)

  14. Clifford says:

    That’s good to know about, generally. How long has that been running?


  15. Thomas says:

    This inspired me to attempt a humor post on my own blog. (Why do theorists have such quirky humor?)

  16. Amara says:

    Clifford: I don’t know. I just found it today!

  17. Pingback: mis 3 quarks » Breves: 14/02/07

  18. Mary Cole says:

    ‘Who cares if you listen?’ can be found at hhtp://
    Babbitt started life as a mathematician before he switched to composition and music theory.In this article, Babbitt considers the role of the academic in society as well as purely musical issues.

  19. stevem says:

    The preprint am really hoping to see is:
    “If Dark Matter is Absorbed by a Black Hole Would Anyone Notice?”

  20. Malte says:

    My first first-author paper was called Cold bright matter near supernova 1987A. It was a nice idea, but I still kind of wince when I think about it.

  21. Clifford says:

    One of these days I’ll get around to working on a “bag model” of quark confinement… maybe come up with a new such model….then I can use the title “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”….


  22. Emily says:

    Boy, am I coming late into the party! I’m happy to at least contribute one bit of funniness, even if few people get to read it…

    Here’s a paper that has a hiiiiilarious title, supposedly completely unintentional:

    A correlation between the lengths of bars and the sizes of bulges


  23. A student says:

    I like those

    Title: Norcor vs the Abominable Gauge Completion
    Authors: Marcus T. Grisaru, Marcia E. Knutt

    Title: SUSY and Goliath
    Authors: Marcus T. Grisaru, Robert C. Myers, Oyvind Tafjord