Friday, May 14, 2010

An Error In The OED!? THUD!

For 99 Years, Oxford English Dictionary Got It Wrong

Aussie prof finds 99-year-old error in Oxford English Dictionary

By Lindsay Goldwert
Daily News Writer

Tuesday, May 11th 2010, 10:57 AM

To err is human but the Oxford English Dictionary is thought to be Divine.

Until a 99-year-old error was discovered.

Dr. Stephen Hughes, from the University of Technology in Brisbane, noticed a mistake under the definition for “siphon” in the famed dictionary while researching an article, according to London’s Daily Telegraph.

The dictionary states that atmospheric pressure makes siphons work.

This is not true, says Hughes.

"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.

Hughes told the Telegraph he was stunned upon finding the mistake, which had been added in 1911 and been there ever since.

Hughes alerted the OED's revision team, who responded saying that they would rectify the mistake in the next edition.

An OED spokesman said the definition was written in 1911 by "editors who were not scientists."

Hughes now plans to check sources in other languages which may have taken their definition of “siphon” or “siphons” from the OED.

"We would all have an issue if the dictionary defined a koala as a species of bear, or a rose as a tulip," he said.

AOL News (May 11) -- The Oxford English Dictionary got it wrong, and it took 99 years before anyone noticed.

Siphons don't work, it turns out, because of atmospheric pressure, as the OED has been saying since 1911. It's all down to that law Isaac Newton figured out when an apple hit his head: g-r-a-v-i-t-y.

Siphons work by drawing fluids from a higher location to a lower one, not always an easy thing to do, as anyone who's tried to empty a car's gas tank would confirm.

"It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon," said Stephen Hughes, a physics lecturer at the University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

So he was stunned when he noticed the OED had made a mistake, telling The Daily Telegraph of London, "We would all have an issue if the dictionary defined a koala as a species of bear, or a rose as a tulip."

Hughes said he discovered the error when he visited a huge siphon that transfers enormous amounts of water from a river system to a depleted lake in South Australia.

Hoping to use the project as part of an education paper, he researched the word and found "that almost every dictionary contained the same misconception" about atmospheric pressure being what pushed liquids through a siphon

He then wrote to the OED, whose research team said it would correct the mistake in its next edition, the Telegraph reported.

A spokesman for the dictionary told the newspaper that the definition was written "by editors who were not scientists."

And when is a koala bear not a bear? When it's a marsupial.

Even the OED gets that one right. Q.E.D.

1 comment:

  1. Condolences, Stan. I know you were taken way aback at this information.