Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Word of the Day: Outlier
One such word I've begun seeing frequently is outlier. Political pundits often infect each other with such words. After coming across it a few times, I understood the meaning from context as an outsider, someone from outside the mainstream. However, after doing a define:outlier search on Google, I began to see a little more of its specialized roots and applications.
One surprise to me was that the term comes from statistics and insurance/hospital jargon. I may have vaguely known this but not the specific usage. This makes sense in that I've always caught a slightly nasty and insulting feel when it's being used to describe political figures. Literally, it means at the far edges of a statistical universe and when applied to people means they are far outside of the mainstream or norm.
This gives vaguely scientific veneer and precision to its use, as if it were a definitive description of a person's views rather than an opinion about those views. "That person is statistically an outlier. I have the proof right here! Oh, but if you aren't a trained statistician, I doubt you would understand the evidence. You moron."
It's a polite way of calling someone a deviant or abnormal.