WNW: When Dictionaries Get It Wrong
My good friend Meggen sent me a link to an article, knowing it was right up my nerdy alley.
You can go read it, but the gist is this: a physics professor from Australia noted that every English dictionary he could find (including . . . GASP!!! . . . the OED) had the wrong definition of the word siphon.
We all know the general idea of siphoning: a liquid moves from one place to another, such as siphoning gas from a car.
Here's the problem: English dictionaries (which are not edited by scientists) all state that the force that creates a siphon is "atmospheric pressure."
The professor knew that was wrong. The force that creates a siphon is gravity.
I quickly checked my own OED, and sure enough, there it was: "atmospheric pressure," the definition dating back to 1911, and, unluckily for all the rest of us non-scientific folks, that's the definition every English dictionary has used for over a century. (Siphon is defined incorrectly at Merriam-Webster onlineand Dictionary.com even now.)
The professor, Stephen Hughes, contacted the OED folks, who are in the process of doing a revision and update. They had reached the R section, so Hughes was just in time: they could fix siphon when they hit S.
I remember a similar moment in college when a professor of mine found a minor error in the OED. He beamed and talked about it as if he'd discovered uranium. You don't just find mistakes in the OED. They're pretty darn rare.
The nerd in me loves how this particular error has been perpetuated, undebated, for such a long period and in so many dictionaries.
Speaking of the OED, my random word of the day popped up as jeniver, an obscure synonym to juniper. Sure you wanted to know that.
(I'm such a nerd.)