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Stats with benefits; the missing apostrophe

Terry MurdenStats, damned stats and economic benefits

Lots of hand-rubbing in St Andrews just now as the locals start counting the money they’ve just made from hosting golf’s top tournament.

Yet how much does it really make from the estimated 200,000 golf fans who came to town for what turned into a five-day tournament?

I just love these stories about “economic benefit” that surround every major event.  According to those whose job is to estimate such things the Open was said to have delivered a £100 million bounty for the home of golf.

Mmmm… just a minute. Haven’t I heard this somewhere before? Yes, it was a forecast about the economic benefit of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles last year. Would you believe that it was also expected to generate £100m?

Funny that. Not only the same number, but a nice rounded figure. And probably nowhere near the real one.

Let’s face it, statistics are about as reliable as a Labour pledge to fight Tory cuts in welfare benefits.

It’s not just sport that is affected by the guesstimate syndrome. The BBC told us that 35,000 watched Edinburgh’s carnival parade on Sunday, yet STV said it was 20,000. Someone either had a dodgy calculator or 15,000 folk did a runner when the STV man started counting.

It’s also happening in the music world. Glasgow said it expected 500 million television viewers when the MTV Europe roadshow rolled into the city last year. Yet Belfast claimed its hosting of the event in 2011 was watched by 1.2 billion. Does that mean 700 million switched off when the show came to Scotland? That’s one mother of all margins of error.

Now, I’m not suggesting the numbers are made up. It just looks that way.

Gallery say’s theres no case to answer over it’s aberrant apostrophe

Few of my tweets have attracted more interest than one highlighting the missing apostrophe on the publicity material for David Bailey’s (sorry, Baileys) Stardust exhibition at the National Galleries of Scotland.

On its journey from the National Portrait Gallery in London to Edinburgh it seems to have lost the wee fellow. One respondent – who had some internal knowledge – told me the decision to omit the apostrophe had prompted no fewer than nine meetings of the senior staff. That’s a lot of meetings, almost as many as have tried to sort out the Greek debt crisis.

Bailey's 2Baileys 1However, an official spokesman tells me there were no meetings, or at least none that he had been told about. Instead, there were lots of mutterings in the corridors, that sort of thing.

It seems the decision was taken by the designers who obviously have no truck with such niceties of the English language. The photographer himself was also consulted.

“There was no series of meetings to agonise over this simple design decision, and all of our materials were approved by the Bailey studio,” said my official in a statement. He later added: “It was definitely not a mistake. It was a deliberate design device. After all, there is no apostrophe in Baileys Cream.”

He has a point. There is also no longer an apostrophe in Waterstones (a recent change) and F W Woolworth became Woolworths yonks ago (this abuse of the language probably added to its eventual demise).

This is hardly a justification for the Baileys (sic) travesty, but it does suggest pressure is mounting for the eventual banishment of the neglected appendage.

After all, there is a long-standing precedent in Boots the chemist. Founded by John Boot in 1849, it lost its apostrophe a long time ago so that, in the eyes of grammarians, it ought to be selling footwear rather than foot cures. That’s how important it is to retain punctuation.

One is left to feel that we who continue the sadly-missed Keith Waterhouse’s campaign against the aberrant apostrophe are losing the battle.

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