## for values of

**for values of** [MIT] A common rhetorical maneuver at MIT is
to use any of the canonical random numbers as placeholders for
variables. "The max function takes 42 arguments, for arbitrary
values of 42." "There are 69 ways to leave your lover, for 69 =
50." This is especially likely when the speaker has uttered a
random number and realizes that it was not recognized as such, but
even `non-random' numbers are occasionally used in this fashion.
A related joke is that pi equals 3 -- for small values
of pi and large values of 3.
Historical note: at MIT this usage has traditionally been traced to
the programming language MAD (Michigan Algorithm Decoder), an
Algol-58-like language that was the most common choice among
mainstream (non-hacker) users at MIT in the mid-60s. It inherited
from Algol-58 a control structure FOR VALUES OF X = 3, 7, 99 DO
... that would repeat the indicated instructions for each value in
the list (unlike the usual FOR that only works for arithmetic
sequences of values). MAD is long extinct, but similar
for-constructs still flourish (e.g., in Unix's shell languages).

Return to Cool Jargon of the Day