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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:

abacot, a spurious word found in many dictionaries, originating in a misprint of bycoket.

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...

Spurious word

supposed meaning origin meaning of real word comments
abacot kind of helmet bycoket

a bicocket was misprinted abococket, copied as abococke, and finally "corrected" to abacot

kind of cap or head-dress (peaked before and behind) Some 19th century dictionaries even provide a picture of an abacot
bartizan  a battlement bertising  a  temporary, wooden battlemented parapet  
delapsation  fatigue delassation fatigue, weariness  
fleingall kestrel a mistake for steingall kestrel the dialect variant staniel was often mispronounced as stallion
gannok   Henry of Huntingdon's family name -Talbot   A medieval chronicle has the name as Galbot; later texts corrupted it into gannoc or gannok
grimmer    gimmer finger-ring made up of three separate rings related to gimbal
gyronnetty having a pointy top girouetté having a weathercock   
macegriefs those who willingly buy stolen flesh macegriers butchers  
outparter ? outputter 1. one who puts out, 
2. a publisher,
3. a counterfeiter
error repeated in Statutes,  Law Dictionaries, and general Dictionaries.
perdulous   misprint for pendulous hanging  
pornial primal misprint for primal primal  
rosoth cow-dung rother-soil cow-dung  
serviant servant-like error for serment  an oath  
stell place, station misprint for castell (= castle) castle  
superhumerate to carry on the shoulders error for subhumerate to carry on the shoulders possibly a "correction" of sub- to super-
thitling   misprint for tithing   repeated in several American Dictionaries
tineman a very small man misreading of  túnman in a manuscript of King Cnut’s "Forest Laws" (c 1185) peasant  
wadage wages misreading of vadia in a writ appointing a serjeant wages  
weasy   misprint for wealy  wealthy or healthy  
water-gauge, water-gage a sea-wall or dam from the false reading of watergangia in the 1597 edition of a Romney charter of 1252. a flood note that the supposed and real meaning are almost opposites
zimme, gem Old English gimme gem  

Now see how many you can find in your favorite dictionary.

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Last Updated 02/17/02 12:16 PM