All good dictionaries are an education in themselves, but one of the most useful and entertaining yet has to be the OECD Glossary of Statistical Terms. Some will cringe, others will delight in thumbing a dictionary that defines historic monuments as “fixed assets” and lemons as “defective capital goods”.
©Ronald Searle 1945, by kind permission of the artist and The Sayle Literary Agency in 2004*
The glossary goes beyond clarifying the arcane jargon and other technical terms for which the OECD and other organisations are well known, though it tries to unlock these codes and acronyms that permeate, and sometimes underpin, international policy dialogue. Within its 6,000 entries there are indeed 17 different definitions for “value-added”, 10 for words dealing with income, and explanations of economic expressions like “unequivocal price index”, “winsorisation”, “offshoring” and “X-inefficiency”. Other examples include “MFP” (multi-factor productivity), ICT (deemed more precise than IT), “moral hazard”, “asymmetric oligopoly” and “fatal edit”, which refers to data errors and not reckless proofing while driving. Originally for statisticians, the glossary reflects the rather unusual world of those international bureaucrats and policymakers, many of them nonnative English speakers, who built this language more out of expedient necessity than lyrical fancy or linguistic snobbery. For this, it is worth the hefty download of nearly 800 pages.
The glossary is updated constantly and is freely available on the OECD website. Now annual updates can be downloaded in PDF or Word form, complete with background and references to relevant publications. Rory Clarke
©OECD Observer, No 246-247, December 2004 - January 2005
*UPDATE: Ronald Searle, described as one of the greatest illustrators of the 20th century, passed away aged 91 on 30 December 2011. Guardian obituary.
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