Why the Dictionary Used to Include a Word That Never Existed

Unfortunately, the word "dord" isn't a synonym for "density."

Putting a dictionary together is hard work. The last printed unabridged dictionary, Webster’s Third New International, took a staff of nearly 100 editors and 202 outside consultants almost 12 years to write. As one dictionary editor writes, the project timelines “could reasonably be measured in geologic epochs.”

And yet despite the careful process, mistakes do sneak in—just ask the editors of the 1934 edition of Webster’s New International Dictionary. In addition to a 3350-page book of more than 600,000 entries, the editors of that edition also gave us something especially delightful: the fake word dord. It’s probably the most famous instance of a fake word ending up in the dictionary, but it’s far from the only one!

The word appeared on page 771, between Dorcopsis (a type of small kangaroo) and doré (golden in color), as a noun meaning density in the fields of Physics and Chemistry, according to Snopes.

So how did it get there? Apparently, one of the major updates for the 1934 edition was to separate abbreviation entries from word entries. Until then, abbreviations, such as lb for pound, appeared in alphabetical order along with all the other words. The editors worked on separating the entries by putting each entry onto a card, and organizing them into piles: one for words, and one for abbreviations. Learn even more about how words end up in the dictionary.

Unfortunately, the card for the abbreviation “D or d, cont/ density” snuck into the “words” pile, and the “D or d” notation became a single word: “dord, a synonym for density.”

Five years later, an editor took note of the imposter word and began the process of eliminating the word from future editions. However, the word dord continued to appear in other brand’s dictionaries for years after the ordeal. Next, check out some more fun facts you never knew about dictionaries.

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