Say What?


Among the approximately 200,000 words in the English language (give or take a few), “Dord” is unique.

Oh, it’s in the dictionary, or at least it used to be, right there between Dorcopsis (a genus of small kangaroo) and doré (meaning gold). But it doesn’t mean anything. In fact, it was there by accident. Dord isn’t really a word.

Turns out that for five years, from 1934 through 1939 , Webster’s New International Dictionary mistakenly included dord as a real word, defining it as a noun meaning density.

How could a nonexistent word suddenly appear in the dictionary? Apparently, Webster’s chemistry editor, Austin M Patterson, wrote a note to the other editors telling them to include the letter D or d as “density” in the new edition being prepared. Perhaps the reader needed bifocals—in any case, the letters were read as a single word, “Dord.” The hardworking editors classified the word as a noun, invented a pronunciation, and the rest is history.

The way the slip-up got noticed is just as interesting. In 1939, an editor noticed that the word Dord lacked an etymology. Did it just appear out of thin air? A bit of research determined that yes, it had! By 1940, dord had been deleted, although it continued to crop up in other dictionaries for several more years.

Personally, I think dord is an excellent word, and should surely be assigned a meaning. One blogger (named Jason) decided to do just that, and calls his blog “dord defined”— dord (dôrd), n. density of mind; chiefly exhibited by one who attempts to demonstrate supposed knowledge –adj. dord’ish

What definition would you give to dord?

One thought on “Say What?

  1. These are the times I *so* wish I had the gift of wit to create some amazing definition that would leave everyone in stitches! As it is, I enjoyed chuckling at Jason’s definition. Perhaps when people realize their dordish behavior, they often hit their head on the palm of their hand and exclaim, “doh!.”

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