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Dictionary Mountweazels

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A Woodbridge, Connecticut, caller tells the story of coming across the following definition for jungftak in Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary (1943): “n. A Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enable[d] to fly,—each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.” For years, he wondered whether such a bird actually exists. Grant explains that this type of dictionary entry is what lexicographers call a mountweazel—a fake definition used to catch copyright infringers who would take a dictionary’s content and publish it as their own. This is part of a complete episode.

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