WORDS AND THEIR STORIES

2014-07-12webster2ndEditionIn my student times the commencement ceremony, which was usually held in May and marked the end of graduate studies, included our shaking the hand of the department’s mascot Piff and subsequent touching a v-e-e-e-e-ry thick Merriam-Webster Dictionary. The top cover of the Dictionary contained the title “Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.” Throughout the year the Dictionary was kept in a fireproof cabinet and was taken out only to become a part of the farewell ritual.  The word “New” in the title might have been the right word in the 1930s when the Dictionary was published, but not half a century later. That was the first inconsistency: the “new” dictionary was actually “old.” However, we did not know about the second absurdity which was INSIDE the dictionary and about which I came to know only yesterday: the word “dord.” It was explained as an abbreviation for the physical (chemical) term “density”, WHICH WAS WRONG! The word “dord” had never existed, it was the “ghost word” in the Dictionary. The reason why it crept over into a very authoritative publication was that in the early days of dictionary-making words were entered in there from slips typed by specialists in various branches of knowledge. Webster’s chemistry editor sent in a slip running “D or d, contr./density” (meaning that in special texts the term could be contracted to just one letter “D” or “d”). The combination “D or d” was misinterpreted as a single, run-together word “Dord.” That 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 was assigned to it along with pronunciation 🙂 . The slip with the ghost word slipped (pardon the pun) past the proof-readers and – voila! – the word was in the Webster lexicon.

2014-07-11Frindle_coverThere is another story about a fictitious word that passes into common parlance. Some time ago I happened to listen to an audio-book “Frindle”, the title word being the word in question (it may be listened to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLvhsX-h7no ). I strongly believe that the book by the American author Andrew Clements should be read by every teenager and by all teachers and educators. It is charged with humor, brims with intellect, it’s very kind and uplifting.

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