The real meaning of 42

Julia Goldsworthy seems to be omnipresent at the moment. A particularly poor interview in the Independent today which contains 0% insight and fully a third of the article is filled with interviewer Andy McSmith asking questions about inane trivia:

“At what level of income does a person start paying 40 per cent tax ?” she was asked. “In the mid thirties,” she replied. “That’s right isn’t it? I will have to refresh that kind of thing in time for the Budget.” Well, the exact answer is £32,400 per year – so she was close. Next came a question that stumped Stephen Byers when he was minister for Schools. “What are eight sevens?”

“Forty-two,” she answered with confidence. Er, sorry, Julia. Forty-two is the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, according to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You could call it the ultimate Liberal Democrat manifesto. But whatever planet you’re on, eight sevens are fifty-six. The colour rose up her neck. “Fifty-six!” she cried. “You’re right. Gosh that’s terrible!” Here she broke into a defensive laugh as she reflected on what the party’s “shadow” Chancellor, Vincent Cable, would have to say. “Maybe Vince will be taking me in for an arithmetic test. The press office is no good at arithmetic either. They got my age wrong!”

There’s no getting away from the fact that saying 7×8 = 42 is a schoolboy error (although she does appear to correct herself without prompting), but then, it is a schoolboy question. Worse, the level of income that the 40p rate kicks in is £37,295, meaning that Julia was actually more accurate on the hoof than the journalist was with the luxury of being able to look it up.

The sad thing about this article is that this is about as good as it gets. However embarrassing Julia’s gaffe is, I’m afraid this article says a lot more about the quality of British journalism these days.


  1. And, as any fule kno, 42 is not “the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything” – it’s the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Entirely different.

  2. And of the course the ultimate question of Life, the Universe, and Everything was: “What do you get if you multiply six by nine?”

    Which explains why I always thought there was something fundamentally wrong with the universe;-)

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