Lexical Investigations: Outlier

outlier, malcolm gladwell, robust statiticsOutlier was such a useful and long-established term that, in 1865, geologists coined inlier, so that they could have a contrasting word with the opposite meaning. So why has inlier fallen into disuse today? Maybe it’s because people and things that exist outside the mainstream are inherently more interesting, and therefore are more talked about. Today, outlier can refer to a political maverick, a musical prodigy, or an animal that lives apart from the herd—all phenomena worthy of discussion.

Nowhere have outliers been talked about more than in statistics, where a few outlying examples can throw calculations about everything else off kilter. An entire field called robust statistics was developed in order create mathematical models that can still produce reliable descriptions in spite of the presence of outliers.

The 2008 bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell, popularized the use of “outlier” to describe exceptional people such as Bill Gates who achieved enormous success. Gladwell argues that 10,000 hours of practice, timing, and societal factors beyond one’s control are more important than inborn talent in determining who will become an outlier.

Popular References:

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcom Gladwell. Little, Brown and Company

Outlier, Tailored Performance Clothing, based in New York.

Read our previous post about the word noble.
A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.
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