Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 28, 2010

Words, words, words

February 28, 1939: The word “dord” is discovered lurking in the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition even though no such word exists. An investigation followed.

Austin M. Patterson sent a slip of paper into the editorial staff on July 31, 1931, stating “D or d, cont./density.” What was suppose to have happened was this: in the earlier editions of the dictionary, abbreviations were scattered throughout the listings in alphabetical order. Thus lb. as an abbreviation for pound would be found after the entry for the word lazy. However in the newer addition, all abbreviations were to be grouped separately.

Patterson, a chemistry editor, was trying to get the d to be recognized as the abbreviation for density in Physics and Chemistry. There was a miscommunication between the various people working on this entry and the “D or d” was read as “Dord” and the definition was added. Since there was no etymology or usage given, it was investigated and the word was immediately deleted from all further printing. The fact that this is even an issue is a testament to the vigilance and dedication of the people compiling dictionaries.

Dictionaries were first simple word lists and existed as early as 2300 BC. The earliest modern European dictionaries were translations of words from one language to one or several others. In 1604 Robert Cawdrey authored the first purely English dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall. No definitions were included. In 1755 Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language hit the market. Finally in 1884, the first fascicle of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It wasn’t until 1928 that the dictionary was finally completed and the twelfth fascicle was finished.

“I am not yet so lost in lexicography, as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven” – Samuel Johnson

“Words — so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.” – Ambrose Bierce

“Facts are not science – as the dictionary is not literature.” – Martin H. Fischer

Also on this day, in 1827 the B&O Railroad was granted a charter and came into existence.

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