How a Non-Existent Word Got in the Dictionary

Last Friday, we have some fun looking at potential new English words, and how the English language is changing. Since then, I ran across the delightful story of the non-word ‘dord,’ a word you’ve probably never heard of – because it isn’t actually a word. But for eight whole years it was included in Webster’s New International Dictionary.

Dord,’ the entry read, ‘n, Physics and Chem. Density.’ But it wasn’t until eight years later that editors at the dictionary realized that neither physicists nor chemists used any such word for density. What actually happened was that someone suggested ‘D or d, cont./density’ be added to the dictionary to show that the letter ‘d’ could also be an abbreviation for density. Somehow, ‘D or d’ was misprinted as ‘Dord’ – and so you see, children, spaces are important!

The adventures of the non-word ‘dord’ illustrates two things:

1.) Making up a new word involves a lot more than coming up with the string of letters itself. (If it were that easy, ‘prevening‘ would probably be a word.) You actually have the much harder task of somehow getting a large number of people to use the new string of letters for a long period of time. This is probably why a lot of ‘new words’ people dream up crash and fail, rather than enriching our English language.

2.) Just putting a word in a dictionary does not magically make it a word (except maybe in Scrabble). Words need more than just a definition, they need a backstory, and a lot of people who know the word and use it, to actually be a word.

I suppose I could add one more thing, a number 3.) Isn’t it great that we have people whose job it is to check over the dictionary? Think how many more non-words people would claim to be words if dictionaries were not systematized and well-edited.

I like the sound of ‘Dord,’ though, and I share the lament of the one of the dictionary editors who said, taking out ‘dord’ was “probably too bad, for why shouldn’t dord mean ‘density’?”Are there any other interesting non-words that you’re aware of?

Just to update you on my story ‘One House, Six Decades – Three Generations‘ over at cbc.ca/hyperlocal – it was recently selected as a ‘Editor’s Pick.’ Thank you to all who read and ‘liked’ it so far!

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2 Comments

Filed under Randoms & My Life

2 responses to “How a Non-Existent Word Got in the Dictionary

  1. Anna

    Words don’t just happen they evolve over time with often Greek, Latin, Irish, Saxon Germanic roots. Their back story is what they are, not just a made up sound. See “Spell it Out”.

    Like

    • Definitely agree words evolve over time! The stories behind each word are very fascinating.
      Even though “dord” never made it to being a word, I think its story is fascinating too!

      Like

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