News & Features » Miscellany


Rosie Right

An e-mail from her friend Neil Henry, who teaches statistics at Virginia Commonwealth University, gently ridicules Rosie for saying: "fuzzy - This means blurred, not precise, not clear. It can also mean comforting, as in `warm and fuzzy.' It should not refer to math." Dr. Henry wrote: "When I read your column in Style this morning I immediately thought, 'I shall have to write to Right and tell her that `fuzzy' does indeed refer to math. A couple of hours later I discovered that The New York Times had removed the necessity of composing an elegant epistle on the subject. "In the NYT, we find an Op-Ed column titled 'Yes, Candidates, There Is a Fuzzy Math.' … I was going to point out that fuzzy logic is now a vogue term in trendy kitchens, thanks to the Zojirushi rice cooker and similar appliances sold by But Bart Kosko makes the point much more coherently, and even throws in a jab at the state of scientific literacy in the U.S." Kosko wrote in The New York Times: "What neither [candidate] seems to realize is that there really is such a thing as fuzzy math. … "Fuzzy math and fuzzy logic are fields of mathematics and engineering, like chaos math or probability theory. Scientists hold international conferences on fuzzy math and publish in journals of fuzzy math.… "What fuzzy math does is let us and our computers reason with shades of gray. It is a branch of machine intelligence that captures human expertise in software or computer chips. "A good example of a fuzzy concept is cool air - it has a clear meaning, but it is not black or white. Fuzzy logic builds rules out of such fuzzy terms and then embeds those rules in a computer." Rosie doesn't understand much about fuzzy math, but she will follow Dr. Henry's advice. Another e-mail from a reader asks where the word Indian comes from. Rosie assumes she doesn't mean the name often used for Native Americans, which we know comes from Columbus' mistaken belief that he had actually reached India instead of what we know was an area that was unknown to Europeans. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original words India and Indian derive from a Sanskrit word, sindhu, which means river. A river in Asia is called the Indus, but how a generic for river became the word for India and Indian is unclear. Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825), letter (1118 W. Main St., Richmond, Va. 23220), fax (358-1079) or e-mail

Add a comment