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An excerpt from Webster's showing the non-existent word "dord"

The word dord is a notable error in lexicography, an accidental creation, or ghost word, of the G. and C. Merriam Company's staff in the New International Dictionary, second edition (1934), in which the term is defined as a synonym for density used by physicists and chemists.[1]

Philip Babcock Gove, an editor at Merriam-Webster who became editor-in-chief of Webster's Third New International Dictionary, wrote a letter to the journal American Speech, fifteen years after the error was caught, in which he explained why "dord" was included in that dictionary.[2]

On July 31, 1931, Austin M. Patterson, Webster's chemistry editor, sent in a slip reading "D or d, cont./density." This was intended to add "density" to the existing list of words that the letter "D" can abbreviate. The slip somehow went astray, and the phrase "D or d" was misinterpreted as a single, run-together word: Dord (This was a plausible mistake because headwords on slips were typed with spaces between the letters, making "D or d" look very much like "D o r d"). A new slip was prepared for the printer and a part of speech assigned along with a pronunciation. The would-be word was not questioned or corrected by proofreaders, and it appeared on page 771 of the dictionary around 1934.[2] It appeared between the entries for Dorcopsis (a type of small kangaroo) and doré (golden in color).[1]

On February 28, 1939, an editor noticed "dord" lacked an etymology and investigated. Soon an order was sent to the printer marked "plate change/imperative/urgent". In 1940, bound books began appearing without the ghost word but with a new abbreviation (although inspection of printed copies well into the 1940s show "dord" still present).[3] The non-word "dord" was excised, "density" was added as an additional meaning for the abbreviation "D or d" as originally intended,[4] and the definition of the adjacent entry "Doré furnace" was expanded from "A furnace for refining dore bullion" to "a furnace in which dore bullion is refined" to close up the space. Gove wrote that this was "probably too bad, for why shouldn't dord mean 'density'?"[2] The entry "dord" was not removed until 1947.[5]

See also


  1. ^ a b Eschner, Kat (28 February 2017). "As "Dord" Shows, Being in the Dictionary Doesn't Always Mean Something's a Word". Smithsonian. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Gove, Philip Babcock (1954). "The History of 'Dord'". American Speech. 29: 136–138.
  3. ^ Neilson, William Allan, ed. (1943). "dord". Webster's New International Dictionary (Second ed.). G. & C. Merriam Company.
  4. ^ "Erroneous word "Dord" is discovered in dictionary". History Channel. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  5. ^ Brewster, Emily. "Ask the Editor: Ghost Word".
  6. ^ Weisstein, Eric W. "Boole's Rule". MathWorld.

External links