Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Siphon in the OED

I don't know if you've seen this yet today, but it makes for interesting conversation, For 99 Years, Oxford English Dictionary Got It Wrong:

The Oxford English Dictionary got it wrong, and it took 99 years before anyone noticed.

Siphons don't work, it turns out, because of atmospheric pressure, as the OED has been saying since 1911. It's all down to that law Isaac Newton figured out when an apple hit his head: g-r-a-v-i-t-y.

Siphons work by drawing fluids from a higher location to a lower one, not always an easy thing to do, as anyone who's tried to empty a car's gas tank would confirm.

"It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon," said Stephen Hughes, a physics lecturer at the University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

So he was stunned when he noticed the OED had made a mistake, telling The Daily Telegraph of London, "We would all have an issue if the dictionary defined a koala as a species of bear, or a rose as a tulip."
You can read another version of the article at QUT physicist corrects Oxford English Dictionary.

Not folklore related, but an interesting debate over the reliability of information which can be folklore related in its own way. And funnily enough, I remember being taught that it was atmospheric pressure at some point. I don't know if this is just a common misconception or something perpetuated by the incorrect dictionaries. If you read the article, others get it wrong presumably since they consult the OED, too.

And can you imagine the extra fuel for the debates over using Wikipedia as a source now? We'll hear: "The venerable OED isn't always right either! Wikipedia appears to describe siphon correctly."

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