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wundayatta's avatar

If "ordinary least squares" doesn't mean anything to you, what does it sound like it means?

Asked by wundayatta (58326 points ) June 22nd, 2009

And if you have any other jargony phrase that only means something to those in the know, but sounds ridiculous to others, please post it here.

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23 Answers

kenmc's avatar

I have no idea what that means… It really does sound like gibberish to me.

Not long ago, I asked a question in reference to something I thought up, which is”

Innate intelligence is reflective self-awareness”

That makes perfect sense to me but it didn’t to the people answering the question.

Ivan's avatar

We are actually just learning about least squares solutions. Nothing denoted as “ordinary” just yet though.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well, I know what it means so that doesn’t apply
and another phrase…hmmm…Alex and I say the baby ‘urpied’ a lot which, to us, means he exploded and vomited everywhere…and @boots it made sense to me, i just didn’t agree with it

YARNLADY's avatar

When I encounter things that I don’t understand, I look them up on the search sites. One of the funniest is “Why do we click on ‘start’ to turn off the computer.” The problem is the answers don’t always make sense either. “Well, because Microsoft designed it that way. Don’t blame me. But the method works, so let’s just go with the flow and trust me a little.”

The correct answer is “We have to ‘start’ the program that safely shuts down the programs that are running before it turns off your computer.”

essieness's avatar

That means nothing to me. I guess I’m thinking “ordinary” = “square” in my mind, but I don’t even know if that’s right. The only phrase that come to mind that might even be in that category is “have a little hair of the dog that bit you.”

phoenyx's avatar

Sounds like math; statistics perhaps?

Ivan's avatar


Algebra, actually.

YARNLADY's avatar

I thought of the California Least Tern which has caused havoc for some farmers, due to their protected habitat.

augustlan's avatar

I thought of sad little squares. :(

Some terms from my old industry: Dog Vomit (not referring to a dog), NPK, T & S (nothing to do with tits, I promise), IPM. Can you guess the industry?

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Today I learned what snizz means, does that count?

Sariperana's avatar

Sounds to me like a term that would be found in a quilting pattern…

f4a's avatar

its something to do with regression.. @daloon what does Ordinary least square mean?

PandoraBoxx's avatar

My first thought was the least boring of ordinary people.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@phoenyx I certainly used it in my biostatistics class and work

cyn's avatar

4, 9, 16, 25…IDK

Supacase's avatar

It sounds like some sort of math term that I would never fully grasp

wundayatta's avatar

My fantasy about what the term ”ordinary least squares” might mean to someone who just happens across it

For me, when I think just about the words, it sounds like a kind of oxymoron about a person. Who is the least square? Of those who are least square, who is the most ordinary? Somehow I picture a guy from the midwest with a short haircut who goes to church, but is secretly a jazz musician, or something like that.

Description of the Statistical term: Ordinary Least Squares

Ordinary Least Squares, or OLS, is the most common (ordinary) statistical method for trying to see if one thing is correlated with another, for example, if height is correlated with weight, or vice versa. You take a bunch of measurements of people’s height and weight. As you might predict, using your common sense, the taller a person is, the more they weigh. However, you don’t know the average (so-called “normal”) correlation between height and weight.

If you take your observations, and you plot them on a graph, you’ll see a trend where the height and weight of the smallest people is plotted on the lower left, and that of the tallest people is on the upper right. In general, it looks kind of like a cloud of points (I’ve provided a link to an example below).

What we want is an equation that relates the average relationship between height and weight. Essentially, this equation will draw an imaginary straight line through the cloud of observations (scroll down a little to figures 4.1 and 4.2 to see this “scatter plot”).

This imaginary line represents the best “fit” to the cloud of observations, explaining the relationship in a way that average of the sum of the squares of the distance from each point to this imaginary line is the smallest (the least) it can be. You square in order to deal with the problem of negative and positive distances (you don’t want them to cancel each other out—the square of a negative number is always a positive number).

Thus, “ordinary” least squares. You have to use different techniques when the relationship between various correlated factors is in the shape of a curve, or if there are other problems that make OLS give you results that don’t make sense, when you apply common sense. However, in most cases, OLS works the best, and that’s why it is called “ordinary.” There are other techniques for creating these imaginary lines that relate various factors to each other, such as Maximum Likelihood.

To create these lines, you have to perform an awful lot of addition, multiplication and division operations—and you have to guess at the relationship, and test all kinds of different formulas that describe the relationship. Computers are really good at this repetitive kind of task, so these days, we let computers figure this shit out for us, and we interpret the meaning of the resulting line.

So, this is my first attempt to explain a statistical concept, and I have no idea whether it makes sense to you or not. Please let me know. I find that a lot of people are afraid of statistics, partly because it uses these equations that have very strange symbols in them, and look completely un-understandable. The truth is that statistics is based on your intuitions about the relationship between things, and it is calculated by millions of simple operations (addition and multiplication and division) that you can do in your sleep.

Since it is intuitive, we often find scientists “proving” what we think are perfectly obvious things—such as the relationship between height and weight. However, sometimes the numbers don’t prove what our intuition says, such as the relationship between race and intelligence. One hundred years ago, people thought the relationship was obvious. Certain races were smarter than others. As it turns out, common knowledge was wrong. Intelligence has no relationship to race.

Zaku's avatar

Sounds like an annoyingly-expressed math concept. Like probably it means something like whole positive numbers multiplied by themselves, with some other context that isn’t being explained in the term, that “least” has to do with.

Zaku's avatar

@daloon – Your explanation made pretty good sense to me. Though taking the square root of the difference between the squares of the coordinates is simply calculating the straight-line distance between points (applying the Pythagorean Theorem). I’d just call it the least distance between data points, or the middle of the road method, or something more descriptive in common language.

LostInParadise's avatar

Mathematics has a lot of colorful terms, many of which should be pretty familiar. Numbers may be irrational, imaginary or complex. Recently the concept of number has been extended to a group called surreal numbers.

One of my favorite math terms is osculating circle, which has nothing to do with playing spin the bottle.

Zaku's avatar

@LostInParadise – What are they calling a surreal number?

LostInParadise's avatar

The concept is very abstract and I admit to not fully understanding it. Surreal numbers were developed by John Conway as part of his theory about certain types of games. They include all real numbers as well as infinity and infitesimals. I have looked at the book by Knuth referred to in the article and did not find it very helpful.

trailsillustrated's avatar

is the same as an “average Bear”?

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