Word Watch: fruitloopery

Credit: drjohn08318

Credit: drjohn08318

Fruitloopery — the improper or ignorant use of scientific or technical language to make a false or impossible claim seem more believable — is the latest addition to the lexicon by Canada’s Word Spy, Paul McFedries.

It comes from the use of the term “fruit loop” as a “whimsical way of describing someone who is a bit crazy, scatterbrained, or weird,” which has been used in that sense since at least 1982, McFedries wrote on his WordSpy website.  McFedries says it  “likely” comes from the Kellogg’s cereal  Froot Loops (but I ask you: where else would it have come from?), with a boost from associations with the word loopy, meaning crazy or bizarre.

The earliest use of the term was in 2002 in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) in a story by Robin Oliver describing the work of Dr. Peter Spitzer, aka Dr. Fruit-Loop who founded the Humour Foundation and the Australian Clown Doctor programme. (Born in Czechoslovakia in 1946, Dr. Spitzer died in August this year.) The SMH story was about the team of clown-doctors he led to East Timor in 2000. “Meet Dr. Fruit-Loop,” Oliver wrote, adding that “fruitloopery has been his game, for he is one of three inspired Australian doctors who decided to work posing as clowns among children in East Timor.”

The most recent use was last month in the newly-released book The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty by Alfred Scharff Goldhaber and Robert P. Crease.

But the most medical example McFedries offered was in the 2012 Telegraph story “Complementary medicine courses in universities: how I beat the varsity quacks,” by David Colquhoun: “If you get yourself poked with needles, and the next day you feel better, there are two possible reasons. One is that you are experiencing a placebo effect. The other is the ‘get better anyway’ effect or, in scientific parlance, ‘regression to the mean’. Acupuncture might sit at the respectable end of the fruitloopery spectrum, but I believe it has no place in a university, other than as a good example of how easy it is to fool yourself.”~TM

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