It has taken the eye of a Queensland University of Technology physicist to spot a 99-year-old mistake in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The error may be slight, but it’s an error nonetheless, according to Stephen Hughes.
Doctor Hughes claims he has discovered that the dictionary’s definition of the word ‘siphon’ has been incorrect since 1911.
The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary, and many other dictionaries, stated that atmospheric pressure was the force behind a siphon.
But in fact it is the force of gravity at work.
“It is gravity that moved the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm,” Dr Hughes said.
When Dr Hughes stumbled across the mistake he alerted the dictionary’s revision team, which had just completed revising words beginning with the letter ‘R’.
“I thought, ‘Oh good, just in time,’ because S is next,” he said.
The senior lecturer in physics discovered the error after viewing an enormous siphon in South Australia, transferring the equivalent of 4000 Olympic swimming pools from the Murray River system into the depleted Lake Bonney.
“I thought this example would make a great education paper…but in my background research I discovered there was much contention about the definition of the word siphon,” Dr Hughes said.
“I found that almost every dictionary contained the same misconception that atmospheric pressure, not gravity, pushed liquid through the tube of a siphon.” …