The greatest scientific typo in history

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Have you ever heard the word "dord"? It's a scientific term for density. Kidding! No, it isn't. It's the legacy of the greatest typo in scientific history. Learn about the history of this ghost word.

In 1934, the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary came out. It was a detailed and comprehensive tome that went well beyond giving the definition of a word. It included basic etymology of a word, and some variations in spelling or pronunciation, meant to give readers a complete sense of the word and its history. The entry for "dord" included the fact that it was a noun, and that it was a term from physics and chemistry that meant density. There was no sense of what language or history it came from, or why it was a better term for density than the word "density" was.

It wasn't long before physicists and chemists started writing in and saying that none of them had ever heard of this property called dord. Who came up with it? Where was it in scientific texts? An investigation that ended in 1939 finally uncovered a sorting error that spawned a word. The original term was "D or d," and was bound for the stack of words meant to be in the abbreviations section of the dictionary. The capital or lower case d does often stand for density in both physics and chemistry. Somehow, when it found its way into the stack of pages meant to be words, the letters were pushed together and the word "dord" was born.


It almost seems a shame that we didn't just keep the word, since it's a rather charming error. But perhaps dord is better off as a legend than as a scientific term.

Image: Till Niermann

Via Snopes and Etymonline.