Next time you are playing a game of Scrabble think twice before reaching for the Oxford Dictionary because errors do exist, as proven by an Australian professor who recently found an error that was almost a century old.
The Oxford English Dictionary has been the last word on words for over a century. When the members of the Philological Society of London decided, in 1857, that existing English language dictionaries were incomplete and deficient, and called for a complete re-examination of the language from Anglo-Saxon times onward, they knew they were embarking on an ambitious project. However, even they didn't realize the full extent of the work they initiated, or how long it would take to achieve the final result says the Oxford Dictionary when telling the history of how it all began.
Does the Oxford Dictionary ever make a mistake you wonder?
Everyone makes mistakes, and lexicographers are no exception. Even now, when most dictionaries are produced by large teams, errors ranging from typos to incorrect definitions can make their way in - after all, dictionaries are big books that take a lot of work to write. Samuel Johnson famously defined ‘pastern’ as the ‘knee’ of a horse (it is in fact a part of the horse’s foot), and when asked why, is said to have replied ‘ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance’.
Most recently an error in the definition of the word "siphon" was found by Dr. Stephen Hughes, from the University of Technology in Brisbane. Hughes noticed a mistake under the definition for “siphon” in the famed dictionary while researching an article, according to the Brisbane Times.
Library of Congress
The United States Library of Congress
Hughes found that entries for the word 'siphon' incorrectly said atmospheric pressure is the force that allows the device to move liquids from one place to another.
"It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm," he said.
"An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon," he added.
Hughes, whose fields of study include astronomy, meteors, planets and the moon, said he first found the error in the Oxford English Dictionary last year.
He said a spokeswoman for the Oxford English Dictionary had told him he was the first person to question the definition of siphon, which dated from 1911 and had been written by editors who were not scientists, according to the original story in the Brisbane newspaper.
Library of Congress
A view from above at the US Library of Congress
According to the Oxford publishers, Wikipedia said it would take a single person 120 years to type the 59 million words of the OED second edition, 60 years to proofread it, and 540 megabytes to store it electronically. As of 30 November 2005, the Oxford English Dictionary contained approximately 301,100 main entries.
Supplementing the entry headwords, there are 157,000 bold-type combinations and derivatives; 169,000 italicized-bold phrases and combinations; 616,500 word-forms in total, including 137,000 pronunciations; 249,300 etymologies; 577,000 cross-references; and 2,412,400 usage quotations.
For more fun, fast, facts from the Oxford English Dictionary you can check out their website for all the interesting details.