For 99 Years, Oxford English Dictionary Got It Wrong
May 11, 2010
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."
Hughes said he discovered the error when he visited a huge siphon that transfers enormous amounts of water from a river system to a depleted lake in South Australia.
Hoping to use the project as part of an education paper, he researched the word and found "that almost every dictionary contained the same misconception" about atmospheric pressure being what pushed liquids through a siphon...