Publication Peculiarities: Acknowledgements

It is always interesting to look at the acknowledgements section of a paper, if one is present, in the hope of finding something (often unintentionally) humorous or unexpected. Here are some that I’ve collected, all from published mathematics papers.

Faulty English

The first group comprises examples where the acknowledgement doesn’t say what it was meant to say. The explanatory comments are aimed at those whose first language is not English or who are new to the publishing game.

“I would like to thank the unknown referees for their valuable comments.”

This is quite a common usage. Unknown should be replaced by anonymous in order to avoid the interpretation that the referee is someone who is not known in the community.

“I thank the anonymous referees, particularly Dr. J. R. Ockendon, for numerous suggestions and for the source of references.”

A referee is not anonymous if his name is known.

“I am grateful to the referee whose suggestions greatly improved this paper.”

Ambiguous. Were there other referees whose suggestions did not improve the paper? A comma after “referee” would avoid the ambiguity.

“I am also glad about some suggestions of the referee.”

Non-idiomatic and implies that the author did not like some other suggestions of the referee.

“The authors wish to thank the valuable suggestions of the referee.”

It’s the referee who should be thanked, not the referee’s suggestions.

Unexpected Thanks

Here are some more unusual acknowledgements. The first, from

Gregory Ammar and Volker Mehrmann, On Hamiltonian and Symplectic Hessenberg Forms, Linear Algebra Appl., 55-72, 1991

reports a speeding ticket:

“We thank Dr. A. Bunse-Gerstner for many helpful discussions (and the German police for a speeding ticket during one discussion). We also thank the referee for several insightful comments.”

What a shame that the discussion did not take place on an unrestricted autobahn.

Sometimes an acknowledgement is about help that has “oiled the wheels”. The authors of

Alan Feldstein and Peter Turner, Overflow, Underflow, and Severe Loss of Significance in Floating-Point Addition and Subtraction, IMA J. Numer. Anal., 6, 241-251, 1986


The authors wish to thank Mr. and Mrs. Peter Taplin of the Stone House Hotel, near Hawes, North Yorkshire whose helpful service and friendly hospitality eased the preparation of this paper considerably.

It seems that, thirty years later, the Stone House Hotel is still up and running with the same hosts. Let this serve as an unsponsored recommendation.

Marriage Proposal

The paper

Caleb M. Brown and Donald M. Henderson (2015). A New Horned Dinosaur Reveals Convergent Evolution in Cranial Ornamentation in Ceratopsidae. Current Biology, 25(12), 1641–1648.

contains a marriage proposal in the acknowledgements, which end

“C.M.B. would specifically like to highlight the ongoing and unwavering support of Lorna O’Brien. Lorna, will you marry me?”

Earlier posts in this series can be found at publication peculiarities.

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