When I Use a Word, It Cannot Mean What it Means


You don’t say. I wonder where the world could ever have gotten that idea.

On Sunday when I was putting together my Bistromath column for the home page, I came across this brilliant bit from Douglas Adams:

The second nonabsolute number is the given time of arrival, which is now known to be one of those most bizarre mathematical concepts, a recipriversexcluson, a number whose existence can only be defined as being anything other than itself. In other words, the given time of arrival is the one moment of time at which it is impossible that any member of the party will arrive. Recipriversexclusons now play a vital part in many branches of mathematics, including statistics and accountancy, and also form the basic equations used to engineer the Somebody Else’s Problem field.

We have now arrived at the point of the Wiggleroom Administration where any “fact” he utters is mathematically provable as recipriversexcluson. That is, anything Wiggleroom says can be proven to mean anything but what he had said.

“The recipriversexclusonist President.” I like it.