447: Too Old For This Shit

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Jump to: navigation, search
Too Old For This Shit
They say if a mathematician doesn't do their great work by age eleven, they never will.
Title text: They say if a mathematician doesn't do their great work by age eleven, they never will.


This comic makes fun of the fact that most mathematical geniuses have done their exceptional work (for which they eventually become famous) in their early years by exaggerating it, particularly given that "too old for this shit" is a phrase more appropriately used by people later in age. At the age of thirteen, most precocious mathematicians would not be pushing the frontier of mathematical knowledge, let alone to the point where they would be "too old for it." As such, this is more of a joke about a young boy attempting to dismiss the world around him. It also plays on the fact that in xkcd comics, it is often difficult to tell age because of a lack of detail, which is necessary to set up the final punchline.

A striking example is Carl Friedrich Gauss, the famous mathematician, who wrote his exceptional masterpiece Disquisitiones Arithmeticae at the early age of 21. This idea was for instance used in the fictional biography of Gauss, Measuring the World, where he admits to having trouble understanding his own work when he got older because of his age.

The "age theory'" applies to physics as well. Albert Einstein was also very young (26) when he published his four groundbreaking papers in the same year (his Annus Mirabilis in 1905) including the one that eventually gave him the Nobel Prize. Later in life, for instance, he never accepted the theory of quantum physics - which is now a very well-established theory.

The title of the comic, "Too Old For This Shit," is also a reference to the Lethal Weapon series, in which one of the main characters (Roger Murtaugh, played by Danny Glover) is repeatedly quoted as saying things along the line of "I'm too old for this shit."

The title text asserts that thirteen is way too old as it claims that mathematicians should do their great work at the age of eleven! If not - they will never do anything great.


[Two Cueballs are standing in front of a whiteboard covered with equations. They are facing away from each other, not yet fully conversing with each other.]
Cueball 1: I wish I could do math like when I was young.
Cueball 2: Huh?
[The two now face each other. They talk to each other.]
Cueball 1: It doesn't come easy like it once did.
Cueball 2: Uh huh.
[Still talking.]
Cueball 1: Math is a game for the young. I need to sit back and let the future happen.
[Still talking.]
Cueball 2: You're thirteen.
Cueball 1: Yes, and it's time I accept that.

comment.png add a comment! ⋅ comment.png add a topic (use sparingly)! ⋅ Icons-mini-action refresh blue.gif refresh comments!


For example Fields Medal is given to mathematicians not over 40 years of age --JakubNarebski (talk) 20:47, 27 June 2013 (UTC)

Yet Sir Andrew Wiles was 41 when he found the proof for Fermats Last Theorum... I'm glad he didn't give up at age 11. Personally I never stood a chance as I only got interested in maths after leaving school (and yes I do struggle even though I'm 42! and am envious of everyone who's good at it ;) ) Squirreltape (talk) 16:45, 30 January 2014 (UTC)

One of few xkcd strips where the characters being stick figures actually helps comedy... Mumiemonstret (talk) 15:50, 8 December 2014 (UTC)

I can't help but feel that there's another joke here. Namely, the 13 year old claiming that maths isn't as easy as it used to be might be reffering to the fact that he used to do arithmetic, but now has to deal with stuff like algebra and graphs. (Hey, someone put my IP address here for identification).

It's actually a common misconception Einstein didn't believe quantum theory, he only rejected the parts that went against common physics.Hiihaveanaccount (talk) 17:47, 23 February 2021 (UTC)

And he developed general relativity long after his annus mirabilis. Not all great work is done while young. Nitpicking (talk) 03:22, 26 August 2021 (UTC)