Happy Dord Day! On this day each year we celebrate dictionaries and the people who make them — and we remind ourselves that lexicographers are human, just like us. 😊
On the 28th of February in 1939, an editor working on the upcoming third edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary was examining a copy of the second edition (1934) to see what entries needed to be updated. He came across the word “dord,” a synonym (according to the dictionary) for the word “density” as used in physics and chemistry. The word had no associated etymology, so the editor decided to investigate.
Upon investigation, it turned out (amusingly and embarrassingly) that there is no such word as “dord,” even though it appeared in Webster’s big New International Dictionary. A science specialist working on the 1934 edition had submitted a request to have the letters “D” and “d” added as abbreviations for “density,” but the request slip was written “D or d” — and through a series of minor editorial missteps this became “Dord” and it was added to the dictionary as a word meaning “density.”
In later editions, after it had been spotted, the error was removed, leaving the dictionary more accurate but less entertaining.
So today’s little lesson for your homeschool students is this: dictionaries are compiled by people just like you and me, and even though they try very hard to be accurate, sometimes they make mistakes just like we do.
What wonderful words — real or imaginary — did you discover in your homeschool this past Orion Term? 😊
❡ Explore more: The delightful Fun With Words website has the full story of “dord,” along with a host of other wild and woolly word-wonders to explore. 🔍
❡ Looking in the lexicon: Our recommended River Houses homeschool dictionary, the American Heritage Fifth, does not, alas, include the word “dord,” but you can send your students to search nevertheless. Where would it be if it were there? Right between Dorchester and Dordogne. 📖
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