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OED definition of siphon
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2010/06/07
11:14am
Peter
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A science podcast I listen to recently commented on a report that a physicist at Queensland University of Technology had noted that the OED definition of a siphon is incorrect. article at QUT magazine The definition attributes the siphon action to atmospheric pressure when in fact it is due primarily to gravity. The article notes that a check of other dictionaries finds the same error, although the definition is correct in the Oxford Dictionary of English. Encyclopedias and scientific reference books typically have correct descriptions of the action of a siphon.

Does the fact that so many dictionaries repeat this error tell us anything about how later dictionaries were compiled? Is the OED the source of the bad definition which has been propagated by possibly lazy lexicographers?

2010/06/18
2:14pm
Plano, Texas
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It is a form of plagiarism by people to lazy to do the research. Unfortunately that is how the world wide what's it is made up.

This is how it works.

Person #1 writes something that has not been researched or is just a plain outright lie. Usually it is something heard from another unverified source

Person #2 needs to write something on the same subject. Person #2 researches only as far as Person #1 data, ASSUMES it is OK and copies it.

Person #3 needs to write something on the same subject. Person #3 researches and finds two sites with supporting data, so ASSUMES it must be right.

It just gets worse. Had Person #1 checked facts, a lot of misinformation could be avoided.

The problem is, everyone assumes and no-one verifies.

2010/06/18
6:32pm
Ron Draney
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It was ever thus. Doesn't every speck of historical documentation we have on Atlantis ultimately derive from a single source?

Okay, so that single source was Plato, but still….

2010/06/19
5:47am
Plano, Texas
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From a single source? Not necessarily Ron.

More than one person can witness and record an historical event. The difference in the source is the view point, interpretation or bias of the writer and is true for all documentation, including historical and religious. We read what they want us to believe or what the writer believes, in their own mind to be true.

Let's take a for instance – Cinderella's glass slipper was, according to many sources a misinterpretation of the French for fur (vair) with the French for glass (verre). An easy mistake if the story was related orally and over a glass or two of wine. A mistake that is amplified by such internet writings as this where the writer openly admits they heard it over dinner and pass the story on without verification.

Another website (snopes.com/language/misxlate/slippers.asp)says the mistranslation story is incorrect and offers some explanation, now here is the bummer. Is the explanation, verification? For some yes, and so the second theory becomes gospel.

2010/06/19
4:03pm
Ron Draney
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I'm now trying to remember where I heard this (one of Carl Sagan's books is the front-runner theory at the moment), but I was given to understand that every other account of the existence of Atlantis took Plato as its source; that there was no truly independent confirmation that such a place had ever existed.

2010/06/20
8:36am
Plano, Texas
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I think you're right. I didn't read your first answer correctly – which leads to another reason why things get distorted.

2010/06/20
6:50pm
Mary Jo Dailey
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Science teacher here. Siphons DO work as a result of atmospheric pressure. However, there is atmospheric pressure because of gravity.

2010/06/20
7:13pm
Mary Jo Dailey
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Just read the article…. and he's got a point.

2010/06/21
6:22am
Christopher Murray
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When I was a physics undergraduate, I came across what I considered to be an error in the OED's definition of adiabatic.

As I recall, it said that it described a system from which heat neither entered nor left (correct), but went on to say that it implied that the temperature of the system therefore remained constant (incorrect).

I assumed it was a deliberate error to detect plagiarism. Grant has a fancy name for such dictionary entries.

I don't know if the OED still says that, or even if I remember it correctly decades later.

2010/06/21
8:26am
Glenn
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Christopher Murray said:

I assumed it was a deliberate error to detect plagiarism. Grant has a fancy name for such dictionary entries.


The term is mountweazel and it is my new supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. I find a surprising number of occasions to refer to it, and it always impresses the audience.

Mountweazel episode discussion

2010/06/21
3:31pm
telemath
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Ron Draney said:

It was ever thus. Doesn't every speck of historical documentation we have on Atlantis ultimately derive from a single source?

Okay, so that single source was Plato, but still….


Agreed. Other examples:

1. The "tongue map", which shows that different parts of the tongue are responsible for identifying different tastes. It appeared in one publication in 1901 and has been thoughtlessly propagated since then.

2. Car Talk recently featured a geographical puzzle with "only one solution". Since the puzzle aired, a few more solutions have been identified. However, CNN picked up the original puzzle and the claim of "only one solution", and aired it without any fact-checking.

On a more language-related note, I find that vocabulary serves as a marker for news articles that are mindlessly copied from one news outlet to another (e.g. the Associated Press). They seldom change anything – especially if one of the copy-writers (or copy-copiers) doesn't completely understand a word. For example, in the 1990's, I heard an article about a "phalanx of soldiers" moving in to occupy an area. For about a week, every news program that picked up the article used the phrase "phalanx of soldiers". I was disappoointed that no one even picked up a thesaurus (sorry, Grant) to try to differentiate their reporting even just a bit.

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