Lamia Gurdleneck – “it’s what you do with the figures that matters”

In the frontispiece of my risk management books I have a quote that sums up a fundamental truth about quantitative risk management:

It’s not the figures themselves, it’s what you do with them that matters”

I included the quote because it does express a fundamental truth, a motto by which we should all live. But also because it is something of an inside joke among statisticians: Maurice G. Kendall and Alan Stuart quote the passage in volume 2 of The Advanced Theory of Statistics from 1979, ascribing it to K.A.C. Manderville and a book titled The Undoing of Lamia Gurdleneck. But neither Manderville nor the book actually exist – they are the creation of Kendall and Stuart.

In writing my book I tried to track down the source of the quote (reproduced in its entirety below), looking for the author or the book. Nothing. Until one site pointed out that the name of Lamia Gurdleneck is an anagram of Maurice G. Kendall and Sara Nuttal (Lamia’s aunt) an anagram of Alan Stuart. And K.A.C. Manderville an anagram of Mavrice Kendall – substituting a “v” for “u”. It is all a joke of Kendall and Stuart’s.

Although we can applaud Kendall and Stuart for their sense of humor we should also remember that they created Lamia for a reason – because it is what you do with the figures that matters.

“You haven’t told me yet,” said Lady Nuttal, “what it is your fiancé does for a living.”

“He’s a statistician,” replied Lamia, with an annoying sense of being on the defensive.

Lady Nuttal was obviously taken aback. It had not occurred to her that statisticians entered into normal social relationships. The species, she would have surmised, was perpetuated in some collateral manner, like mules.

“But Aunt Sara, it’s a very interesting profession,” said Lamia warmly.

“I don’t doubt it,” said her aunt, who obviously doubted it very much. “To express anything important in mere figures is so plainly impossible that there must be endless scope for well-paid advice on how to do it. But don’t you think that life with a statistician would be rather, shall we say, humdrum?”

Lamia was silent. She felt reluctant to discuss the surprising depth of emotional possibility which she had discovered below Edward’s numerical veneer.

“It’s not the figures themselves,” she said finally, “it’s what you do with them that matters.”

— Ascribed to K. A. C. Manderville, The Undoing of Lamia Gurdleneck, in Maurice G. Kendall and Alan Stuart, The Advanced Theory of Statistics, Volume 2 (1979, frontispiece).

About Thomas Coleman

Thomas S. Coleman is Senior Advisor at the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics and Adjunct Professor of Finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. Prior to returning to academia, Mr. Coleman worked in the finance industry for more than twenty years with considerable experience in trading, risk management, and quantitative modeling. Mr. Coleman earned a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago and a BA in physics from Harvard College.
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