February 28, 1939: The Hilarious Way A Word Was Invented

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A Brief History

On February 28, 1939, the Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition accidentally included a goofy meaningless word among the thousands of legitimate words found in the esteemed text.

Digging Deeper

When it was pointed out that the apparently new word, “dord,” had been included in the dictionary, defined as “density,” an investigation ensued.  The explanation was that the entry that should have been included was simply a capital D, followed by the word “or” followed by a lower-case d.  That is, it should have looked like this: D or d.

Chemists, engineers, physicists and the like use the letter D to represent “density,” a function of the weight of an object or material vis a vis a given volume of that material.  It is similar to specific gravity.

The mistake was noticed by an editor of the dictionary, and an investigation ensued as to why this mystery word had no etymology associated with it.  The mistake was rectified, and in 1940 the dictionary was supposedly printed without the so called “ghost word” though “dord” was not totally excised until 1947.

Question for students (and subscribers): What are your favorite words with suspect or funny beginnings?  Could “googol”  (meaning a number 10 to 100th power) invented by the 9 year old nephew of a mathematician be a candidate?  How about “bug” as in a “computer bug” which derives its name from an actual bug that messed up an early computer?  Frenemy?  Un-friended?  Google?  Spam?  Jeep?  Grungy?  How about acronyms such as BOHICA, SNAFU, and DILLIGAF?  Feel free to share your favorites with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

WEBSTER’S NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. SECOND EDITION. UNABRIDGED.  G. & C. Merriam Company, Publishers, 1939.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.