Thursday, May 18, 2006

Well I'll be dammed! ... Or, Dammed Pedantry?

What is is that set one's thoughts dashing off in unpredictable directions? A short while ago I came across an article somewhere on the Web which referred to "Liars, Damned Liars, and Statisticians". If you do a Google search for this term, you'll get quite a few hits.

What annoyed me about it was that the original wording was "Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" and it was made famous by Mark Twain, but not necessarily of his invention. It could have come from famous British PM Benjamin Disraeli (or elsewhere), as the following articles suggest: Lies, Damned Lies, and Something About Statistics and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_Damn_Lies,_and_Statistics

Switching my brain into pedant mode:
The correct term is "damned lies" and not "damn lies" -- certainly not "dam lies" as some unfortunates write.

One of my earlier laptop computers had a very nice LCD screen but I was bitterly disappointed to find that one of the pixels was dead, so that a dark spot appeared whenever there was a light-coloured background. That particular supplier had a policy of accepting a couple of dead pixels as within tolerable manufacturing bounds, so they refused to replaced the screen -- and naturally enought I made a mental note never to buy their brand again!

Switching myself into ultra-pedant mode now:
The same "faulty pixel" sort of thing happened to me regarding Gone With The Wind, a most memorable production in all respects -- except, that is, where Clark fluffed his famous line when Rhett tells Scarlett: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!"

Listen to this MP3 soundclip or this WAV soundclip to hear it for yourself. Clark really should have delivered the line as: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." But with cannons booming, Atlanta burning, and all the other powerful storyline events, I suppose that most people wouldn't notice this wayward placement of word stress!

Maybe it's just the way that Americans like to treat upon the English language -- anoher example of "a common language dividing nations" perhaps? The Australian (more-or-less-British) pronunciation would have stressed "damn" and not "give". Maybe it was all Clark's fault, no one else to be held responsibe!

I'm now switching off pedant mode ... In my research I luckily cam across some interesting articles, including this page of Memorable Quotes from Gone With The Wind (such as "I believe in Rhett Butler, he's the only cause I know.")

Finally, going back to "lies and statistics" again, here's a real gem: The Worst Social Statistic Ever ... Can you believe it: "Every year since 1950, the number of American children gunned down has doubled."

Richard Schwarz commented points out one aspect of some poor journalistic efforts that manage to get published. In a similar vein, even an august sorporation like IBM persisted, until about ten years ago, in data storage capacities (for disks, tapes, diskettes) with statments along the lines of "equivalent to a pile of double-spaced typed pages reaching half way from the Earth to the Moon". Why double-spaced? What font size and how many characters per line? What interline spacing and how many lines per page? From which part of the Earth to which point on the Moon, and at what stage in their relative orbits? What average thicjness of the paper sheets? ... You know what I'm getting at, don't you!\!

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