[life] John Horton Conway: the world’s most charismatic mathematician … enjoyable profile of John Horton Conway – the creator of the cellular automaton called Game of Life.
Conway made what he called “The Vow”, promising himself: “Thou shalt stop worrying and feeling guilty; thou shalt do whatever thou pleasest.” He no longer worried that he was eroding his mathematical soul when he indulged his curiosity and followed wherever it went, whether towards recreation or research, or somewhere altogether nonmathematical, such as his longing to learn the etymology of words. Conway’s fate now was to do all the stuff that he had formerly feared his fellow mathematicians might floccinaucinihilipilificate. “Floccinaucinihilipilification” is his favourite word. He reckons it’s the longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary (it is certainly in the top three), and without prompting he gives an account of its etymology: it is a Latin-based word, invented circa 1730 at Eton as a schoolboy’s joke. And, Conway recites nearly verbatim the OED’s definition: “the action or habit of estimating as worthless.”