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  • Wednesday, April 12, 2006


    Word of the Day: Outlier

    I always find it interesting when particular words seem to spring to the fore, begin to pop up more frequently in political discussion. Sometimes these are familiar words but more often I find they are specialized words from special professions or realms of education.

    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.

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