Man corrects 99 yr old error in Oxford dictionary

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Sydney, May 11: A physicist has pointed out an error in the Oxford Dictionary that had gone unnoticed for 99 years.

Queensland University of Technology physicist Dr Stephen Hughes claims he has discovered that the dictionary's definition of the word "siphon" has been incorrect since 1911.

While the dictionary mentions that a siphon works due to atmospheric pressure, the actual force that works behind it is gravitational force.

"It is gravity that moved the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm," The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Dr. Hughes as saying.

He immediately alerted the dictionary's revision team just as they had finished revising words beginning with 'R'.

"I thought, 'Oh good, just in time,' because S is next," he said.

According to, the senior lecturer in physics discovered the error after viewing an enormous siphon in South Australia, transferring the equivalent of 4000 Olympic swimming pools from the Murray River system into the depleted Lake Bonney.

"I thought this example would make a great education paper ... but in my background research I discovered there was much contention about the definition of the word 'siphon'.

"I found that almost every dictionary contained the same misconception that atmospheric pressure, not gravity, pushed liquid through the tube of a siphon," he added.

The physicist is adamant that the correction be acknowledged, however small the error may seem.

He has turned his attention towards other dictionaries to see if the same error in defining siphon exists elsewhere too.

"I would like to know if the siphon misconception exists in dictionaries in other languages, and also if there are incorrect definitions of siphon in school text books," he said.


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