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The Mysterious "Dord"The story of how a string of lexicographical errors brought about the birth of a new word.
DORD (supposedly meaning density) is a non-existent word entered into the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary by mistake. The following is an excerpt from The Story of Webster's Third: Philip Gove's Controversial Dictionary and Its Critics (Herbert C. Morton, 1994):
When the guidelines for etymology in Webster's Third were nearing completion, Gove took time out to add the story of dord to the lore of how things can go wrong in dictionary making. Dord was a word that had appeared spontaneously and had found a quiet niche in the English language two decades earlier. It was recorded in Webster's Second in 1934 on page 771, where it remained undetected for five years. It disappeared from the dictionary a year later without ever having entered common parlance. The facts, which had been established years earlier through a search of company files, were as follows, as abridged from Gove's explanation.
A footnote indicates the excerpt above was based on "The History of Dord," in American Speech, 29 (Philip Gove, 1954).
The fact that dord has become so famous is perhaps a tribute to lexicographers' exacting standards and the fastidious accuracy with which they compile dictionaries. Such errors are incredibly rare indeed in such a major dictionary, despite the huge potential for small oversights to creep in. What is somewhat worrying about this story, however, is that it appears that whoever inserted the pronunciation (and, for that matter, the "Physics & Chemistry" categorisation) appears to have done so with no research whatsoever. For how many other words were pronunciations simply made up or guessed?
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