Friday, January 21, 2005

Friday Afternoon Diversion

While cleaning out my email files, I came across this...

To the question, "How many anecdotes does it take to make data?," came the answer,

"Interesting that you should ask. Both words derive from the turkoman word "detu," meaning, roughly "lying in the path of swine." The Turkomen were noted for their prize-winning swine, and to lay in their path, even to be trampled to death by them, was an honor in the ancient world. Stories of people doing so were exchanged around camp fires on the Asian Steppes for millennia, until the early sixties, when the advent of cheap transistor radios and Radio-Free Europe brought "The Stroll" craze to that area of the world, supplanting the pig-death stories as the chief form of entertainment. The revered Greek poet and traveler, Bart, believed by some to have been the son of, yes, I'm sorry, Homer, observed this (the lying down before swine, not the stroll) in his travels and gathered and relayed to his students these tales upon his return home. The stories, because they seemed to go on almost forever, came to be called anodetus, literally, pig stories that take a year to tell. Somehow, over the years, the pig part of the definition came to be dropped.

Meanwhile, Bart's older Roman contemporary and sometime drinking companion, the noted mathematician, Numerous, was conducting his own porcine studies in the area. Well, perhaps studies overstates the case a bit. In fact, noted mathematician overstates things, too. He was a notorious drunk on three continents, is what he was, and what he tended to "study" was the feet that would pass by him as lay drunk in the mud. Being something of a savant, he could, in his brief moments of sober lucidity, relate exactly how many feet has passed by him while he was laying in a stupor. Though this talent was of no interest to most people, it turns out that the Turkomen valued it greatly, as he tended to fall down along the path of the annual pig parade and could later relate just how many pigs had paraded by him. He became quite a local celebrity, which proved his downfall. Upon returning to Rome (via Ceylon, but that is a whole 'nother story, which we've not time to bother with now) he expected the same kind of attention he'd received in Asia. Well, of course, things turned out differently. He was widely scorned for his recitations of how many pig's feet had nearly trampled him, and data, the Latin equivalent of detu, was derided for centuries as "pig numbers." It really didn't start to be rehabilitated until the latter half of the last century. Jimmy Dean had something to do with that, but you'll want to visit his web site for that story. It was Microsoft, of course, that really brought data into the mainstream (though they, quite naturally, stole the seminal work in this field from Apple, who had lifted it from Xerox).

Anyway, as you see, there is really no easy answer to your question."

Now I can delete that email. Thank god.
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