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.


  1. Blah -  February 16, 2016 - 3:41 pm

    can’t find the meaning of the word outlier

  2. Blah -  February 16, 2016 - 3:40 pm

    can’t find the meaning of outlier

  3. Novelist -  July 29, 2013 - 8:06 am

    “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”
    — Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science (1966)

    And therefore, I suppose, when you’re a golfer everything looks like a golf ball – when in fact it appears to be a baseball, or some such sports equipment, ‘outlier-ing’ the boundaries of play.

  4. johnpaul -  July 28, 2013 - 11:09 pm

    the noctural word is that you may be fest by its own namae by leaving a word in the paragraph that is one of the most impressive to connect in diverse continental summary of a book in some ways to prevent vulnerable to read and to leave a one side from another side to jump it and eat.

  5. baitturahman -  July 28, 2013 - 11:05 pm

    change money the of house the house life for sure in the indonesian of call the city on the friends rt009/rw01 jln gg fatahhilah no 1a

  6. awesomness -  July 27, 2013 - 8:32 am


  7. Ray -  July 24, 2013 - 1:09 pm

    One of the best examples (best for many reasons) of words that shift in meaning, is, the word, “prevented,”–as in: Peter was about to go in but Jesus “prevented” him…meaning not that he did not let Peter go in, but that he ‘pre-vented’ (blew-in ahead of) Peter… (cf wind, pneuma, spirit).

    ‘Robust mathematics’ was practiced in a century prior when taking ruler measurements: we discard the two outliers before averaging the inliers: The notion is that outliers being on the tail of an exponential distribution of samples contribute no accuracy, and the remaining inliers will suffice.

  8. 20more1mores -  July 24, 2013 - 6:30 am

    “…was developed in order create mathematical models…” Come again?

    Could the paragraph about Malcolm Gladwell’s book be any more “copy/paste” plagiarized? The text and spacing don’t match the rest of the article. Even a high school kid stealing from Wikipedia knows to check the format on his/her essay before submitting their work.

    Come on editors – good article concept, poorly written.

  9. Ron -  July 24, 2013 - 5:18 am

    The following example of bad grammar can be found in the home page teaser that leads to this page:

    “How is this buzzword changed over time? “

  10. Ole TBoy -  July 24, 2013 - 5:13 am

    Was the illustration showing a golf ball significant, or just a hook to get folks of that ilk to consider reading the blurb? I am no golfer but I did expect there to be a connection between outlier and a position one’s own golf ball has in relation to the hole and the balls other players have hit. It seems logical in every round that one ball on the green would be an “outlier,” i. e., most distant from the hole. Is that terminology that is used in golf?

  11. OJO SULAIMON BABATUNDE -  July 23, 2013 - 9:29 am

    I’ am Ojo Sulaimon Babatunde, from Nigeria. I decided to join the english forum of Britain, because of my verisimilitudes to it, has an obvious emulatives with my lively biography and the societies

  12. R MANJUNATH -  July 23, 2013 - 6:40 am


  13. Wakaye Maxwell D. -  July 23, 2013 - 12:35 am

    Request to be updated and enlighten on current English words


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