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Thursday, January 03, 2008

“Random” banished by Lake Superior State’s grammar guardians

I see that the 2008 List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness by Lake Superior State University (LSSU) includes a word that will be hard to avoid by statisticians: “random.” My youngest daughter is still in high school so I hear this word very frequently, but up until last semester, when she took a statistics class, it annoyed me greatly.

As an experiment, I typed in “this random guy,” which I’ve heard my daughter say quite often, as the subject of a Google blog search. (This was mentioned by LSSU too.) Here’s a small sample (selected – not random) of what came up:
“…so I got in the hot tub. it's a shared hot tub, so this random guy joined me after I had been there a while. awkward!”

“…this random guy we saw though totally free styling the mountain! so scary!!!”

“Random” evidently has become synonymous with “unknown” – a frightener for girls describing an encounter with a guy. As the father of three daughters, I admit that this is very scary!

It turns out that I keep a random guy in my office. His name is “Clocky” (see picture). He goes off at proscribed (not random) times, but even though I control this, it always scares me. You see, Clocky was diabolically designed to be most annoying. First he jumps off his shelf. Then he whistles and squeaks while moving at alarming speed in random directions. One day I left work early before Clocky went berserk. This caused quite a commotion at the Stat-Ease office before one of our programmers deciphered the sequence of buttons required to defuse this runaway terminator of peace and quiet.

For the story of the MIT student who invented this clock with a built-in microprocessor that randomly programs its runaway speed and routes, see this article from the Boston Globe . Clocky can be purchased from Think Geek. (I got mine as a gift from my geeky gadget-loving younger brother.) Their web site for Clocky features a video of some random guy wearing a “Toxic Waste” shirt.

Wouldn’t it be nice if alarm clocks could be banished? Making one act randomly is either a stroke of genius or a criminal act – I cannot decide which.


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