Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rorting and worms?

As we’d missed the televised leadership debate in the current Australian election campaign, I thought I would catch up on the issues by reading the newspapers the next day at the local Portland library.

I was puzzled by two undefined terms used in articles in both national newspapers.

By reading the article headed “Car subsidy scheme ‘open to rorting’” I deduced that “to rort” had something to do with cheating. The writer felt that someone might buy an old junk car just to qualify for the proposed rebate if they traded it in on a newer vehicle.

The second term—worms—was used in ways that offered no such contextual clues. The references seemed to imply one or more pundit’s opinion about debater performance, but “bloke worm” and “pink worm” made it confusing. Neither national newspaper had any obvious explanation of the term.

Luckily, the librarians were able to help—amidst laughter about how odd it must seem to someone unfamiliar with the terms.

“Did you watch the debate on TV?” one asked.

“No, I just caught a few clips later in the news.”

“Ah… well they probably didn’t have the worms active then.”

“Worms” turned out to be graphed responses from a selected audience group who reacted to the leaders performance by choosing a 1 to 5 rank on handheld devices (i.e. dislike a lot to like a lot, with neutral as 3). The consolidated feedback was displayed in real time on the screen as a constantly-moving graph under the leaders as they spoke—and the clips I’d seen no longer included it.

I guess I just don’t watch enough TV.

And “rorting”? The librarians thought my deduction was correct, but we did confirm it online: according to a Wikipedia definition, “rort” is a term used in Australia (and NZ) for “a financial impropriety, particularly relating to a government programme.”

Now if only I’d been reading the article online, perhaps the terms would have included a hyperlink definition…