Divide By Zero

Divide By Zero

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GIF showing that if you divide by zero, it sets off atomic bomb style explosion


To Divide by Zero is an internet slang term describing an action that leads to an epic failure or theoretically unlikely disaster, such as an earth-shattering apocalypse or a wormhole in the time-space continuum. The concept of division by zero is also associated with the phrase "OH SHI-," which represents the response of someone that is cut off mid-sentence as a result of the disaster.


The earliest known reference to division by zero can be found in a YTMND site[15] titled “1/0 !!!!!!!!!!!!” uploaded on October 3rd, 2005, which featured an artist's illustration of a black hole.

meme joking that the world is destroyed when you divide by zero

However, according to Encyclopedia Dramatica[16], the phrase is said to have originated on 4chan's /b/ (random) board, with its earliest dating to December 8th, 2006. In the thread, posters were sharing their chat logs with ChaCha.com search engine, one of which illustrated an Anonymous poster asking “do you know what happens when you divide by 0? things go BOOM so I hear." The question unacknowledged by the ChaCha representative.

4chan post of ChaCha rep acknowledging knowing what happens when you divide by zero

In Mathematics

In math with real numbers[2], values that represent quantities along a continuous line, division by zero is an undefined operation[3], meaning it is impossible to have a real number answer to the equation. This impossibility was first noted in philosopher George Berkeley's[4] 1734 article The Analyst.[5] Division by zero also occurs in computer programming, where an attempt to do so can lead to generation of an exception, error message, positive or negative infinity, or even crash the program being executed.[6] The mathematic aspect of dividing by zero has been discussed on Drexel University's Dr. Math FAQ[7], MathIsFun.com[8], the Explain it Like I'm 5 subreddit[19], Popular Mechanics[26] and the Physics Forums.[9]

Texas Instruments scientific calculator showing error for attempting to divide by zero


The “Divide by zero” comment soon began appearing outside of 4chan as well, with the earliest known instance found in the comments section of an article posted to gaming blog Joystiq[12] on December 13th, 2006. The article, which described a series of satire articles aimed at the gaming blog written by another gaming blog The Game Rag, humorously proposed a challenge of recursive criticism:

Mr. Smart, we'd like to see you rag this article about you ragging our articles. Only then can you create a chain reaction of circular, never-ending prepositional phrases that cause a rift in time space, ultimately opening up a black hole that devours us all. Have at it, you!

Raging about raging on an article is like dividing by zero

In 2007, mentions of dividing by zero also appeared in fanart on deviantArt[13], the eBaum’s World forums[18], 4chan’s /v/ (video games) board[17] and again on /b/.[14] A definition for the phrase "divide by zero" as used in the context of 4chan was added to Urban Dictionary[11] on September 22nd, 2007. In a 4chan thread from February 2008[10], an Anonymous poster suggested “OH SHI-” be the title for an imaginary video game-style achievement for successfully dividing by zero without creating a time paradox while posting on the site.

The joke took another turn in late 2008 with the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to test the predictions of different theories in particle and high energy physics. Following the rise of unlikely speculations that the project could accidentally yield a tiny black hole on the surface of the Earth, the Large Hadron Collider quickly became associated with the humorous concept on 4chan. That same year, “divide by zero” was cited as an example of a 4chan meme in a Yahoo! Voices article[23] about a DDoS attack on the site. Additionally, various image macros simulating hypothetical consequences of dividing by zero have appeared on FunnyJunk[20], Very Demotivational[21] and Tumblr.[22]

Ask Siri

In June of 2015, users of Siri, the automated assistant for the iOS operating system, found that if you asked Siri "What is 0 divided by 0?", the assistant would respond with a long pre-programmed Easter Egg script.[24] The assistant would respond:

“Imagine that you have zero cookies, and you split them evenly among zero friends. How many cookies does each person get? See? It doesn’t make sense. And Cookie Monster is sad that there are no cookies, and you are sad that you have no friends.”

Vine user Mark W Smith caught the retort in a Vine.

Users later found that the trick worked on users who had not upgraded to iOS8.[25] The salty response quickly went viral in the vein of shit that siri says jokes, with celebrities such as Aaron Paul telling their followers to ask Siri the answer to the equation.

Notable Examples

Demotivational poster style meme of Homer dividing by zero and getting sucked into a vortex like black hole GIF of dividing by zero demotivational poster inside each other GIF of someone who divided by zero in class and is now a nebula formation
Awesome house sculputre of Go Ahead Divide by Zero, see if I care, with side of the house looks like it formed a black hole Playing card of why you should never divide by zero Meme of a nuclear explosion and a warning to never divide by zero if not under the supervision of Chuck Norris

Search Interest

"Divide by zero" has a consistently large search interest since it can be applied to math and computer programming. "Dividing by zero" interest does not pick up until July 2005, which is several months before the first YTMND site was made.

External References

[1] chanarchive – chacha.com Post

[2] Wikipedia – Real Number

[3] Wikipedia – Undefined (mathematics)

[4] Wikipedia – George Berkeley

[5] The Analyst

[6] Wikipedia – Division by zero

[7] Ask Dr. Math – Dividing by 0

[8] Math Is Fun – Dividing By Zero

[9] Physics Forums – Zero and Infinity

[10] chanarchive – /b/ achievements

[11] Urban Dictionary – divide by zero

[12] Joystiq via Wayback Machine – The game rag's latest target? Joystiq.

[13] deviantArt – Divided by Zero… Oh Shi…

[14] chanarchive via Wayback Machine – Russian Roulette

[15] YTMND – 1/0 !!!!!!!!!!!!

[16] Encyclopedia Dramatica – Divide by zero

[17] chanarchive via Wayback Machine – 4chan RPG\

[18] eBaum's World Forum – Post all of your Internet Memes here

[19] Reddit – Why can't I divide by zero?

[20] FunnyJunk – Divide by 0

[21] Very Demotivational – Divide By Zero

[22] Tumblr – Posts tagged "divide by zero"

[23] Yahoo! Voices via Wayback – 4Chan.org Suffers DDOS Attack

[24] Washington Post – Ask Siri ‘what is zero divided by zero?’ and she will send you to the burn ward

[25] Huffington Post – Ask Siri What Zero Divided By Zero Is; Prepare To Be Burned By Some Major Snark

[26] Popular Mechanics – The Secret Magic of Dividing by Zero

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