Games: statistically insignificant

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The Independent Online
With two months of 1998 now behind us, our newspaper database has accumulated enough evidence to compare the New Labour year with its predecessor. The table on the right shows the number of articles containing selected words that appeared in a cross-section of the national press in the first two months of 1998, and compares the figure for each word with its score in the same two months of 1997. The differences - highly marked in many cases - provide increasing evidence of the nature of the pre-millennial tension affecting us all.

First, we need only look at the scores for "millennium" itself, and its misspelt relation "millenium". The total number of references has more than doubled. While the misspelt version registers an increase of 42 per cent, it is more significant that the rate of misspelling has dropped from 5.9 per cent in 1997 to 4.0 per cent this year. Nevertheless, we cannot help but regret that Mr Mandelson (up a startling 455 per cent himself) did not opt for an underlined double-N as the millennium logo rather than a single M.

The rise in Mandelsons easily outstrips that of Jack Straws, though Fayeds have clearly improved more than either. The biggest rise, however, is that of Saddam, who may even claim some credit for the rapid rise in "anthrax".

Curiously, even if we add together the rises in Mandelson, Fayed, Saddam and Jack Straw, they still fall well short, in raw terms, of the decline in occurrences of John Major.

The female name of the year is clearly Monica (413 per cent up), which is a bigger rise even than "oral sex" which knelt so neatly at 69 in last year's list. The more demotic expression "blow job" also performed better than last year.

Two new entrants have made a considerable impression.. El Nino has appeared from nowhere and managed to overtake such an old favourite as CJD. Even more surprisingly, however, the Teletubbies are ahead of anthrax. While the doubling of CJD shows that the beef scare is far from over, it is interesting to note that it still made less than half the impression of anthrax.

The table argues against recent predictions of the demise of the Spice Girls: they are well up on last year. Oasis, on the other hand, are the most stable of all words and expressions surveyed.

Finally, we come to "sleaze". Hopes that the new government would put an end to it have sadly not materialised. For all the sleaze under the Tories, 1998 sleaze is still running 51 per cent higher.

Word Jan-Feb 97 Jan-Feb 98 % change

Anthrax 11 249 +2,164

Blow job 3 13 +333

CJD 57 116 +104

El Nino 0 139

Fayed 88 556 +532

Jack Straw 262 841 +121

John Major 7,573 567 -93

Mandelson 132 732 +455

Millenium 65 92 +42

Millennium 1,028 2,217 +116

Monica 193 990 +413

Oasis 683 732 +7

Oral sex 69 188 +172

Saddam 99 1,440 +1,355

Sleaze 218 329 +51

Spice girls 650 895 +38

Teletubbies 0 255