AUSTRALIA – One physicist’s eye proved sharper than others as he spotted an overlooked error!
University of Queensland academic Stephen Hughes discovered that entries for the word “siphon” incorrectly stated that atmospheric pressure is the force that allows the device to move liquids from one place to another. This is an error that is believed to have stood uncorrected for roughly a century.
“It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon, with water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm,” Dr. Hughes said.
“An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon,” he added.
The incorrect definition was introduced in 1911 and has gone unchallenged ever since. Immediately following his discovery, Dr. Hughes wrote up a letter to the Oxford English Dictionary’s revision team, who responded that they would rectify the mistake in the next edition. His discovery was made possible thanks to a recent visit to an enormous siphon in South Australia, which transfers millions of gigalitres from a river system into a depleted lake.
An OED spokesman stated that the definition was written in 1991 by “editors who were not scientists” and that Dr. Hughes’ notes would be taken into account when the entry was rewritten.