Issue 120 page 1
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Just a few days ago, while rummaging through the dictionary, we came across the word abacot. The entry read as follows:
What’s this? Dictionaries may have spurious entries? But this shakes the very basis of our world! A few hours of fevered research revealed several more such imposters. Moreover, due to the common practice of copying words from one dictionary to another, these duds tend to enjoy a life of their own.
Not even Dr. Johnson was above reproach as his dictionary included perdulous. This was not, however, the fault of the good doctor - his printer simply misread the word pendulous. Dr. Johnson’s formidable reputation was such that no one questioned the authenticity of perdulous and it was repeated again and again by less erudite editors.
Delapsation occurs in Webster (and subsequent dictionaries) although he meant delassation. Grimmer is another phony, arising from a mistaken form of gimmer. Pavon made its debut in a work on ancient armor as a misreading of pennon (= pennant), and then it made cameo appearances in a number of dictionaries, including Ogilvie’s Imperial, Cassell’s Encyclopædic, Webster’s, Century, and Funk’s Standard.
“Now wait a minute!” we hear you say, “Bycoket, pennon, delassation, gimmer? What’s with these weird words?” Well, we must admit that one could wait a long time before hearing them used on Jerry Springer but we assure you that these are real words. Besides, it stands to reason that the less familiar a word is the more likely it is to be misrepresented.
While pendulous is a word which is familiar to many of us, most of these dictionary errors are based on some of the most deliciously obscure words you could ever wish to find. Take gyronnetty, for instance. Unknown outside of dictionaries, this is supposed to be a heraldic term meaning “finished at the top with points; said of a castle or tower”. The correct word (as you are, no doubt, aware) is girouetté, French for “equipped with a weathercock (girouette)”. Then there is macegrief, apparently a popular word in law dictionaries, where it is defined as “those who willingly buy stolen flesh”.
Here is the complete list...
Now see how many you can find in your favorite dictionary.
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Last Updated 02/17/02 12:16 PM