transitive property

[tran-zi-tiv prop-er-tee]

What does transitive property mean?

Italy beat Sweden and Sweden beat France, so by, er, the transitive property Italy beat France. It's math, bro!

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Outside of mathematics, the transitive property is slang and a sometime meme where a person uses a series of facts to reach an illogical connection or comparison.

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Examples of transitive property

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Examples of transitive property
I just kissed the Blarney Stone, which by transitive property means I've kissed over 5 million people. This is still a few less than your mom.
@Swag_Catholic, December, 2017
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Moral victories are for losers. Serena Williams is not a loser. Thus, by the transitive property, Serena Williams doesn't do moral victories.
Chris Chase, USA Today, July, 2018

Where does transitive property come from?

The transitive property meme comes from the transitive property of equality in mathematics. In math, if A=B and B=C, then A=C. So, if A=5 for example, then B and C must both also be 5 by the transitive property. This is true in—a foundational property of—math because numbers are constant and both sides of the equals sign must be equal, by definition. (Hey, we’re word people, but we know a thing or two about definitions.)

OK, enough math.

The transitive property slang/meme, on the other hand, misapplies the transitive property to non-numerical things to reach illogical conclusions or false equivalencies. For example, humans eat cows and cows eat grass, so by the transitive property, humans eat grass. Unlike in math, just because the first two statements are true does not make the final “conclusion” true. The humor in the meme relies on the absurdity of attempting to use the transitive property outside of math.

The meme apparently evolved out of the practice of sports fans attempting to apply the transitive property to sports teams and athletes. While it almost certainly predates the internet, as far back as 1992 sports fans were attempting to argue their team was the best using the transitive property on Usenet groups. It has reached the point of a sports cliché, with web sites like myteamisbetterthanyourteam.com created just to mock it.

Through the 1990s, internet users started using transitive property to “prove” the superiority of other things, such as the best pilot in Star Wars or the most powerful character in Lord of the Rings. By the the 2000s, the transitive property was used more generally in silly internet arguments (or intentional punchlines) that tried to connect two seemingly unrelated things.

Into the 2010s, the transitive property joke remains strong.

Who uses transitive property?

Transitive property is still used in sports arguments and sports memes.

It gets kicked up to more absurd levels for meme purposes.

Transitive property has also appeared in popular cartoons and comedy sketches, such as Family Guy, due to the hilariously bizarre leaps in logic it can lead to.

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