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Words of fakeitude or error
October 08, 2005, 08:43wordcrafter
Words of fakeitude or error
Today's word, as defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary ["NOAD"]:esquivalience
the willful avoidance of one's official responsibilities; the shirking of duties: after three subordinates attested to his esquivalience, Lieutenant Claiborne was dismissed.2.
an unwillingness to work, esp. as part of a group effort: Bovich was chided by teammates for her esquivalience. 3.
lack of interest or motivation: a teenager's esquivalience is not necessarily symptomatic of depression.
[late 19th cent.: perhaps from French esquiver,
"dodge, slink away."]This entry is entirely fake.
Soon after NOAD's second edition was published last spring, the scuttlebutt was that there was a made-up word among its e's. Word-Sleuths hunted, settled upon 'esquivalience' as the prime suspect, and then confronted editor-in-chief Erin McKean.
Ms. McKean 'fessed up. NOED, she said, had deliberately made up 'esquivalience' for its first edition – and copied it into the 2nd – as a trap to catch those who might violate NOED's copyright. That is, if any other dictionary contained 'esquivalience', it could only have gotten the term by copying NOAD, not from any use in the real-world use of that 'word'. “Its inherent fakeitude is fairly obvious,” McKean said. “We wanted
something highly improbable."
This week we'll examine words or pseudo-words which, in one way or another, involve or present error or 'fakeitude'.
[And by the way, 'fakeitude' is itself a fake 'word'.]
October 09, 2005, 19:41wordcrafter
Ms. McKean give us one reason why a writer might deliberately put an error in his/her work.¹ But of course, any such errors usually arise from the writer's or printer's a slip-up. Thus, a 1934 Webster's dictionary had an entry stating dord (dôrd), n. Physics & Chem. Density
. But no such word exists. It seems that during preparations an index card noted that the abbreviation D or d
means "density". Somehow that card wandered from the "abbreviations" workpile to the "words" pile. There it was read not as an abbreviation but as a word, thus its D or d
was read as Dord
Such a mistaken word is called a ghost word
– a non-word that is presented as being a word, in a dictionary or other work on words, due to the author's error. Sometimes the term is used more broadly, to include errors which are produced by novelists or other authors, or by the printer. However, the above definition of 'ghost word' tracks the use by the philologist who coined the term, in 1886.
In this class [of philological literary blunders] may be mentioned (1) Ghost words, as they are called by Professor Skeat--words, that is, which have been registered, but which never really existed; (2) Real words that exist through a mistake; … Professor Skeat … gave a most interesting account of some hundred ghost words, or words which have no real existence.
– Henry Wheatley, Literary Blunders
¹Henry Wheatley gives another, telling that when the Inquisition forbade the words fatum
one author simply wrote facta
– and then, in his errata sheet, stated "for facta read
October 11, 2005, 10:34wordcrafter
In general, dictionary-writer's errors such as 'dord' remain dictionary curiosities. I know of no ghost-word that has entered the language. But many errors by others do
enter. We'll look at a few examples.
[Digression: there's one ghost-word that may have entered the language. In old print-styles the letter s
could look very much like an f
(see the original title page of Milton's Paradise Lost
), and thus soupe
- a dialect word something like 'swoop' - could easily be misread as foupe
. Samuel Johnson thus misread, and his dictionary defines 'foupe
'. In truth there was no such word, but according to Julian Burnside, Johnson's foupe
somehow managed to migrate to the Barbados, and there became a slang word meaning "the carefree copulation of animals (not humans)". I am unable to confirm Burnside's story, but he is typically a reliable source.]obsidian
– a dark volcanic glass, formed by the rapid cooling of lava
Pliny tells us that this stone is named for the Roman Obsius,
who found a similar stone in Ethiopia. The name is thus an eponym.
But if the stone is named for Obsius, why isn't it obsian
(rather than obsidian
)? Simply because a scribe, copying Pliny's work, erroneously insered the -di-. Forms both with and without -di- appear in early manuscripts of Pliny, and also in English and French. In each case the form without -di- seems to appear earlier. (1398: ye stoon osianus
is y-rekened among kynde of glas, and yis stoon is som tyme grene and som tyme blak and is clere and bright.). But the form with
the -di- has prevailed in English.
[Note: OED instead accounts for the -di- by claiming that the Roman name Obsius
had the alternate form Obsidius
. But even the Compact OED adopts the 'scribal error' theory. I know of no evidence that the gentleman's name had two forms (can anyone supply?). "Two forms", it seems to me, is just a convenient invention to explain the stone's name.]
October 15, 2005, 20:10wordcrafter
Two stars shine far more brightly than anything else in the night sky (except the moon), and can even cast a very faint shadow on a moonless night. They naturally drew attention, as do all bright objects.
The one that concerns us appears only in the east and, more importantly, appears only in the hours near the end of the night. Thus, it announces that dawn is nearing well before the first glimmerings could be seen --- which is rather useful when you have no clocks to provide that information. Accordingly, as far back as Homer the Greeks had named the star it from their words for "light-bringer" or "dawn-light bringer" (Odyssey 13: When the bright star that heralds the approach of dawn began to show
… ). The Romans named it with similar Latin.
The Latin name appears in St. Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible, called the Vulgate, prepared about 400 A.D. and the dominant Bible for a millenium. At Isaiah 14:12 the star-name is used allusively, referring to a great and shining king and to his downfall. The passage reads roughly, "How are you fallen from heaven, O morning-star."
Now one could
read this as simply, "Lo, how the mighty are fallen." But a "fall from heaven" also suggests the story that Satan is an angel who had fallen from heaven. The early Christians interpreted Isaiah 14:12 as a parable of Satan's fall, and took the word Latin word "morning-star" to be a name for Satan. Thus the name of a bright star became a name of Satan. That term, as you may have guessed, is Lucifer.
– the Devil
Note: in the interest of brevity, I gloss over fascinating matters of astronomy, linguistics, history and theology, but I hope to present them on the board. For example, who misread the bible? Did Jerome himself read this passage as referring to Satan (and use lucifer
to mean Satan), or was that reading created by those who came later?
"lucifer" continuation: astronomy
October 15, 2005, 21:11wordcrafter
These two very-bright celestial objects are so bright that they've been mistaken for an airplane or a UFO! During WWII US fighterplanes upon one, thinking it was a Japanese plane. And Georgia governor (later US President) Jimmy Carter forwarded to the state police a UFO report, which turned out to be one of these stars. Or at least, so says The Planets
by Dava Sobel.
I've said that one of them appears in the east, in the hours just before dawn. The other, reciprocally, appears only in the west, and only only in the early evening.
Each of these will be seen nightly for several months, and then for a time no longer appear above the night horizon, in a recurring cycles. There's nothing unusual about this; many stars are seen, but then sink below the night horizon for months, only to re-arise later in a yearly cycle. But the unique oddity of our two very-bright stars is that their cycle is longer, about 584 days. During that time the two stars never overlap: one appears for several months, and then (after a interval where neither appears) the other takes its turn for a like period.
Perhaps this oddity was the clue by which the Greeks ascertained that these two stars are in fact the same object. In any event, they had reached this conclusion by about 500 B.C.
This object today goes by the name of the planet Venus. I cannot say whether earlier Greeks knew that the objects were planets, but even if they did, Homer's usage shows that the word 'star
' was nonetheless used.
October 16, 2005, 06:32zmježd
The Greek plānēs
means literally 'wanderer' (from plānaō
'to wonder, roam, stray'), as the stars (planets, satellites, and stars in our modern terminology) moved in the night-time sky.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
October 16, 2005, 10:07neveu
To the ancients the planets were those 7 bodies that wandered the sky in the region of the ecliptic: the Sun, Moon, and five visible planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Perhaps another reason for the significance of the number 7.
October 16, 2005, 20:28wordcrafter
– pleased, satisfied, contented
A grunt is the sound of a pig, or a human sound of disgust. How then did gruntled
come to have rather the opposite meaning of "pleased, satisfied, contented"? It comes down to a misunderstanding of a prefix, which was added in one sense and then removed in another sense.
In English the double negative isn't impermissible in certain constructions (such as "not impermissible"), and it means a positive; the "not" negates the "im-". That, however, is a new development. Until a few centuries ago English, like many other languages, freely allowed
the double negative as an emphatic negative; "not not" meant "very much not". Similarly, though the prefixes dis-
can negate the root (disband, dishonor, decapitate, deodorant
), they can instead simply emphasize it, especially if the root itself is already negative. Examples are distort, dissimulate
(meaning "to completely twist, pretend or simulate, and make turbulent"), and denigrate, denude, delinquent, despoil
("to completely blacken, make nude, leave, spoil, and bound or confine").
The two dis
similar senses created confusion with today's word. From grunt
(a sound of dissatisfaction, or to make that sound) came the old word gruntle
(a small or frequent grunt, or to make that sound, that is, to grumble, murmur, or complain). Around 1682 the dis-
prefix was added to intensify the word, and thus disgruntled
emphasized the sulky mood and ill-humor.
But eventually "gruntle" fell out of use and was forgotten, so that one who knows that dis-
can be a negator might think that disgrunted
are opposites. P.G. Woodhouse did exactly that in 1938, re-creating gruntled
as the opposite of disgruntled
rather than a less-emphatic synonym.
… I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled. Gruntle
– P. G. Wodehouse, Code of Woosters
has thus reversed its original meaning!
The word demerit
has much the same history. Its original Latin form meant "merit", with the prefix being for emphasis. But "the prefix appears to have been taken in a privative sense" (OED), and so in medieval Latin the word meant not "merit" but "fault". The French equivalent word was for a time used in both senses, which must have been highly confusing for the French!)
'lucificer' continued -- linguistics #1
October 17, 2005, 20:00wordcrafter
The morning star appears in the east in the morning. The Greeks named it after its timing, calling it 'dawn bringer' -- the term Homer uses is Eosphoros
. But their name for the evening star refers not to its timing but to its position: Hesperus,
from their word for west. Why this discrepency? As far as I know, no one has posed that question.
My theory is that for the evening star, timing was simply of no particular importance. You don't need a star to tell you that day is about to end, for you can tell that quite easily from the low position of the sun.
In contrast, at night there is no sun giving you a signal that the night is about to end. So if a star gave that indication, that would be an important fact about the star, and naturally the characteristic for which it would be named.
October 18, 2005, 20:46wordcrafter
Let's go back to the phony word esquivalience,
, which was put into a dictionary to catch copyright violators. What do you call bits of false data, so used?
Oddly, there seems to be no word for them. They were called "Mountweazels" in The New Yorker
magazine which exposed 'esquivalience', but no one else has used that name.* Perhaps the best term is copyright trap
It is in order to avoid having to prove access that mapmakers will sometimes include a fictitious geographical feature in their maps; if that feature (what is called in the trade a "copyright trap") is duplicated in someone else's map, the inference of copying is compelling.
– 7th Cir. Court of Appeals, in Bucklew v. Hawkins, Ash, Baptie & Co.
But as the quote indicates, that copyright trap
seems to be part of the lingo of map-publishing, rather than publishing in general. Though many web-sites use the term more broadly, I've found only one print-publication that did so. (Chicago Tribune, Sep. 21, 2005, discussing 'esquivalience')
Copyrights are not the only area where false or variant data can be used to trap. For example: honeytoken
– computer security:
a database entry that has no one has any proper reason to use or access. Hence, any usage signals improper use of the database.
[In hospitals] only certain authorized people have access to patient data. A bogus medical record called "John F. Kennedy" is loaded into the database. [It] has no true value because there is no real patient with that name. Instead, the record is a honeytoken. If any employee attempts to access this record, you most likely have an employee violating patient privacy. canary trap:
– Lance Spitzner July 17, 2003, on the web.
Clancy invented this term, but it does not seem to have been taken up.
"What devil is this Canary Trap?" "Well, you know about all the problems CIA has with leaks. I came up with an idea. Each section [of a report] has a summary paragraph, written in a fairly dramatic fashion. Each summary paragraph has six different versions, and the mixture of those paragraphs is unique to each numbered copy of the paper. The reason the summary paragraphs are so—well, lurid, I guess—is to entice a reporter to quote them verbatim in the public media. If he quotes something from two or three of those paragraphs, we know which copy he saw and, therefore, who leaked it."
– Tom Clancy, Patriot Games
*"Mountweazel" refers to a phoney article in a 1975 encyclopedia, telling of photographer Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, who died tragically "at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles