Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sir:

That's how The Spectator's "Letters" column begins. And that, as you probably guessed, is what I was reading over breakfast this morning. The Spectator has the most wonderfully irritable correspondents. A column on statistics in last week's issue brought forth the following in this week's:

The human race has survived and flourished for hundreds of thousands of years without statistics. We survive using superstition, lust, greed and envy. All that statistics have done is make life miserable by legitimising with dubious science the personal biases of busybodies. It tells us that we shouldn't drink, shouldn't smoke and shouldn't immunise our children withe MMR vaccine. Lies, damned lies and statistics.


Well, surely not only superstition, lust, greed and envy. But I take his meaning. If there is a crackpot idea out there, the proponent has a folder full of statistics to quote at you. Unrestrained emotion often seems preferable.

Further on, I find that I've been using jejune incorrectly for almost half a century. Geoffrey Wheatcroft informs that I have shared the

semiliterate misapprehension that jejune bears any sense of immaturity or callowness. The word comes of course from the Latin jejunus for 'fasting', as anyone who had to sweat through Bede's Historia ecclesiastica in the old Oxford history school will recall: the monasteries of Anglo-Saxon England were as devoted to starvation diets as any modern health hydro. It has no etymological connexion whatever with the French jeune, although Kingsley Amis used to say that the man who first misused jejune must have had a bad stammer.


That's not the sort of thing you find in the Long Beach Press Telegram.