Tuesday, May 24, 2016


One of my favorite websites is "WordSpy," which highlights new words and expressions. We linguists are funny that way. A few days ago, the word of the day was mathwash, a verb meaning "to use mathematics, logic, or a similar rational argument to make something inherently subjective appear to be objective."

I think this is a case of a wonderful word arriving at just the right moment in time. As we wade deeper into the morass of the general election season, the candidates will marshall vast armies of statistics and economic data in an attempt to prove (a) that they are right and (b) that the other side is a bunch of useless ratbastards unfit to govern a grade school student council. This data will seldom be presented in context and will be used less as a tool for understanding than as a bludgeon with which to beat the opposition. Or, as Scottish literary critic Andrew Lang once said of a politician of whom he disapproved, "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts - for support rather than for illumination."

I am a firm believer in data, but I like to know its pedigree before I believe in it. When I read an article or see a post or hear a speech loaded with statistics and other figures, I always try to figure out the source ... and if that source is a highly partisan one, I tend to do a little more digging before I accept the information at face value. It's all too easy to fall into the trap of believing that all information is created equal.

Have a good day. Be wary of being mathwashed during this season ... you don't want your life story to be titled "Gullible's Travels."

See you tomorrow. More thoughts then.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

"Gullible's Travels" - I like that! Always suspect politicians as a source for numbers.

The same with polls. Pools can be massaged through their wording.

Linda Kay said...

We have had an intense battle between two folks running for a state senate seat, one already in the office and his "business man" challenger. The mud slinging and personal attacks, especially from the "in office", are flooding my mail box, and today my Facebook. Enough of this already. I think it will sink the guy in office.

Mike said...

What? No 'Figures don't lie, but liars can figure' meme?

Duckbutt said...

Some figures are more impressive than others. Scarlett Johansson, for example.

Gonzo Dave said...

Not to change the subject or anything, but how is it that today's post about mathwash ends with a note to come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday? Isn't Tuesday usually followed by Wednesday?

Or is that just some commie pinko ratbastard's version of a week?

Bilbo said...

Oops. This is what happens when I have several posts ready to go and then change the order of publication without checking the text. Goo thing I have eagle-eyed friends.

John A Hill said...

The word "mathwash" makes me think of our old friend from It's a Numeric Life.
I wonder how she is doing.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Shock and awe them with statistics,