|Pobody's Nerfect. Even in the elite circles of intellect there can be blunders. Such was the case in the second edition of the Webster's New International Dictionary. On February 28, 1939, Philip Gove, an editor, noticed that one word lacked a proper etymology, or a trace of the word's origins. With fervor for accuracy, he began researching the mysterious word only to discover that it existed solely in the mind of the reader. Behold the legend of Dord.
The saga begins innocently enough on July 31, 1931. For many years Webster's had listed abbreviations with words on the same page in alphabetical order. Example, "lb" an abbreviation of the Latin word "libra" which meant to balance scales or more commonly, an abbreviation for the word pound- was listed directly after the word "lazy." However, after due consideration, it was determined by the dictionary board that abbreviations should have a separate listing in the back of the book.
With this in mind an expert in chemistry wrote a note on a 3 x 5 card that a capitalized or lower case "d" was an acceptable abbreviation for the word "density." Thus the note stated, "D or d, cont/ density", the cont/ was intended to alert a typist that would likely be more entries under the letter D in the special section. The typist read the note and added that this came from the advisor for "Physics & Chem." Words added to the dictionary were sent to the editorial stylist with a space between each letter to clarify its spelling. The card now read, "D or d, Physics & Chem., density."
At some point the message was diverted from its destination of the "new abbreviations pile" to the "new words pile." Mysteriously, someone even invented the proper pronunciation symbols so the reader could surmise that dord rhymed with cord, lord, or sword. It was now complete and properly defined as "a noun used in the fields of Physics and Chemistry." The new word was placed after the word Dorcopsis, a type of miniature kangaroo found in Papua New Guinea, and dore, a variant of the color and metal gold. From 1934 to 1939, if you had looked for words on page 771, under the letter "D" you would have likely not noticed the phantom word. To the reader it seemed reasonable that of the 450,000 plus words that Webster's declares as being in the English language that one of them should be "dord." Besides how often does the word Dorcopsis come up in casual conversation?
Alas, as the author Henry Hiram Riley quipped, "All good things must come to an end": so was the demise of Dord. It was discovered by Philip Gove and it ceased to exist in the third edition. Gove commented on the error years later and stated, "As soon as someone else entered the pronunciation, dord was given the slap on the back that sent breath into its being. Whether the etymologist ever got a chance to stifle it, there is no evidence. It simply has no etymology. Thereafter, only a proofreader had final opportunity at the word, but as the proof passed under his scrutiny he was at the moment not so alert and suspicious as usual."
We must all be wary of experts and books.
My gratitude belongs to the website fun-with-words.com for their assistance in this piece. Have a great day. I'm off to my vacation in the nation of Freedonia.