28 Feb: Dord: The Ghost Word
Webster’s New International Dictionary (Second Edition) was the largest book to be mass produced, but – as was revealed on 28th February, 1939 – it contained an embarrassing error: on page 771, between the entries for Dorcopsis (a type of small kangaroo) and doré (golden in colour), was the word ‘dord’. Which doesn’t exist.
The mistake had arisen from a note submitted by the dictionary’s Chemistry Editor, Austin M. Patterson, who had intended to include ‘D or d’ as an abbreviation for ‘density’. It became the most celebrated example of a ‘ghost word’.
In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly ask whether the time is right to re-introduce ‘dord’ to the dictionary; reveal how the word ‘ghost’ itself contains a ‘ghost letter’; and explain why the the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Dictionary deliberately included an entry on fictitious photographer Lillian Virginia Mountweazel…
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