Okay, we have to cheat a little on this one!


To “shin” or “shinny” a tree is to climb up by hugging the tree with both your arms and legs and going through an inch worm type of motion.  However, the word “shimmy” is very often used (incorrectly) when “shinny” is meant.  In fact a Google search on the phrase “shinny up a tree” drew 641 hits while the incorrect phrase “shimmy up a tree” drew 690 hits!


This error is mentioned in the absolutely brilliant online book, Common Errors in English Usage, by Paul Brians.


So, allowing ourselves this cheat (antiphrasis?, malapropism?, catachresis?) we find ourselves with the explanation …


symmetry »  shim a tree »  to climb a tree without branches


Does this open the way for another take on Blake’s often analyzed poem “The Tyger” with its repeated use of the metaphor “fearful shim a tree”?






In any event, Blake’s “fearful symmetry” has certainly found its place in the mathematics literature.  Consider …


Fearful Symmetry: Is God a Geometer?
Ian Stewart, Martin Golubitsky


Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics
A. Zee


Fearless Symmetry: Exposing the Hidden Patterns of Numbers
Avner Ash, Robert Gross



For a thorough and well written essay on symmetry see …





A bit more wordplay.


    We could have defined symmetry as “to climb a tree without limbs”.  This brings to mind Groucho Marx’s line in Animal Crackers, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas” or the newspaper headline “Lawyers Give Poor Free Legal Advice”.  For more fun, check out Beatrice Santorini’s (U Penn) wonderful site of linguistic humor.  Her collection of humorous headlines will definitely keep you smiling!