What it means: 1/100th of a percentage point. When the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee votes to change interest rates, they usually do so by 25 or 50 basis points, which is 1/4 or 1/2 of a percent.
How you can use it: To make small amounts sound much bigger. "Okay, maybe our productivity has only increased by half a percent, but that's 50 basis points!"
Today's term is in honor of Alan Greenspan, who leaves the Federal Reserve today. I feel downright superstitious about that; he's been at the Federal Reserve for longer than my 18-year-old nephew George has been alive.
It's a pretty big news day otherwise, too. Coretta Scott King has died, and my heart breaks for her family, and for the movement that has lost its matriarch. A former postal worker has reinforced her occupational stereotype by killing herself and six co-workers, in California. The Oscar nominations are due later this morning, and President Bush delivers the State of the Union address tonight.
Despite all that, this story gets my vote for news item of the day. From the AP:
A visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, got tripped up by his own shoelace, tumbled down the stairs and fell into three ancient Chinese vases. The valuable antique vases were smashed into "very small pieces," officials said.
"It was a most unfortunate and regrettable accident, but we are glad that the visitor involved was able to leave the museum unharmed," said the museum director, Duncan Robinson.
"They are in very, very small pieces, but we are determined to put them back together," said Margaret Greeves, the museum's assistant director. The three Qing dynasty vases dated from the late 17th or early 18th century.
The museum, kindly, did not release the name of its clumsy visitor. I'm guessing it was Bean.