Stan the Statistician <<Last | Next>> | Current Stan | Archive Stan
Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 3: Names, words and meaning 15 September 1997

Statistics may be my first love, but words can provide an amusing moment too. A recent report from the BBC (London, England) shows how careful you have to be with names. A popular British car, the Nova, would not sell well in Spain as it means 'won't go'. The Italian lemonade, Dribly, might sell well in Italy, but would be unlikely to do well in the UK except amongst those with this particular affliction. The Swedes may enjoy munching through a packet of Bums, which are, of course, cookies, but Anglophones would probably not be so enthusiastic. With the Swedes reputed appetite for all things sexual, it is probably not surprising that they enjoy eating Bums. It would take a strong stomach, though, to pass the Farts (sweets) to your maiden aunt, and the French may enjoy eating Crap chocolate and drinking Pschitt orange, but only the anally obsessed would lust after these products in the UK.

Many years ago when I was a student, I worked for the Inland Revenue (and sadly, still seem to). Dealing with 'TPs' (tax payers), I came across a number of unusual names. There was Jack Frost and the melodiously named Susan Melody Crystal. But my favourite was the poor lady who was named Barbara Olive Reekes (B. O. Reeks) and who was actually dumb enough to marry someone called Smelley. I know this is true because I saw the official documentation and the Revenue does not have a reputation for a sense of humour unless you count the large inflatable cartoon tax man figure recently erected at Euston station. The Revenue think that this jovial character and a couple of youngsters in T-shirts will make paying our taxes more enjoyable. Boy, do I have news for them!

I have sinced discovered other unusual names such as the CID (Detective) in Southampton (England) called Robin Banks and my local chemist called Downs who named his daughter Ida.

I heard about a recent survey from NOP (UK) which said that 55% of people would like to see mobile phones banned in cars even if they have hands free kits (sorry I couldn't scribble the details down as I was driving and on the mobile phone at the time). There was no mention of a breakdown to show if these people owned a mobile phone or not. Methinks they do not. Now a simple reading of this research by politicians (which followed a highly publicised case of a man who lost control of his car while using a mobile phone in a car and killed someone) would suggest (quite rightly) that the majority of people want mobile phones in cars banning. But on the same principle, should we not ban smoking in cars or drinking or eating in cars or indeed any activity anywhere enjoyed by fewer than 50% of the population. Fishing, owning a big car (banned on 'green' grounds), bonking (engaging in sexual intercourse) good looking women or blokes could all be outlawed. After all, fewer than 50% of the population get to bonk the 'lookers'. Once again, be wary of surveys from vested interests. And I wonder if these same 55% would also ban mobile phones in taxis and police cars. And why wasn't there a call to ban mobiles in cars and taxis before this isolated incident? As usual, mass hysteria. Punish the many for the sins of the few (or one in this case). I remember a single incident a few years ago of a woman breaking down in her car and being raped. The case got so much publicity that sales of mobile phones increased dramatically from women who bought the phones for 'emergencies'. There has not been another case since. Could this be because women now have mobile phones or, more likely, because it was a 'one-off'. Cynics could use this as a marketing ploy. Look at the actual probabilities. Of course, these women may have actually wanted to have a mobile phone and used this case as an excuse to justify the expenditure. Who knows?

How many people do you know who have William and Jefferson as their first two names? The only two I know are the President of the United States of America (or Merkuh as Sylvester Stallone calls the place) and the new leader of the Conservative Party in the UK. I find this faintly uncomfortable for some reason.

More news of the millennium problem: it could explode early. However, if it did, we couldn't call it a millennium problem, so let's call it a pre-millennium problem. Anyway, the date to watch for is 9 September 1999 (or 9.9.99) which could be wrongly read by computers using COBOL. Although the September 1999 crash will not be as serious as the January 2000 disaster, it could signal the start of the excitement. Make sure you have your excuses ready. Jet lag is usually good for a few days, but the millenium could run and run. Sorry I haven't paid your bill, but the computer's down with millenium fever. No doubt my loyal readers will be more creative as we reach armageddon.

A survey from Sample Surveys (England) on the new phenomenon called 'road rage' (actually it's not a new phenomenon, it's just that somebody came up with a catchy brand name for it) shows that 92% of motorists claim to have been a victim of it, yet only one fifth will admit to causing it. Sample Surveys deduce from this that respondents were reticent to admit being a 'perp'. Well, that's not surprising is it? But it could also be true that road ragers are a small minority with lots of victims - like there are more mugged than muggers. Once again, be careful about the interpretation of statistics.

This same survey quotes from another (unamed) survey from Australia which shows that 90% of Antipodeans bitten by snakes are men aged 15-25. Now if this is true, I find it hard to believe that Australian snakes are so discerning. How do they know that their victims are in the required age group? Do they conduct a survey? Sorry, Bruce, I can't bite you, you are out of quota. I suppose that young men in Australia drink so many 'tinnies' (beer in cans) that they think they have been bitten by snakes. This would indicate that it is better to avoid Aussie beer rather than snakes.

Check in again at my desk soon!

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