This announcement provides an example of science making a difference in the real world (which is to say, that of words):
QUT Senior Lecturer in Physics, Dr Stephen Hughes, sparked controversy over how a humble siphon worked when he noticed an incorrect definition in the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary.
In 2010, eagle-eyed Dr Hughes spotted the mistake, which went unnoticed for 99 years, which incorrectly described atmospheric pressure, rather than gravity, as the operating force in a siphon.
Dr Hughes demonstrated the science of siphons in a paper published yesterday in Nature Publishing Group journal Scientific Reports. […]
Dr Hughes, whose previous research has taken him to Bhutan to examine how siphoning could prevent inland tsunamis, said siphons had been used since ancient times but how they work was still debated.
“If you think of a car, atmospheric pressure is like the wheels, it enables it to work. But gravity is the engine,” he said.
“It is gravity that moves the fluid in a siphon, with the water in the longer downward arm pulling the water up the shorter arm.”
The Oxford English Dictionary corrected the error and removed the reference to atmospheric pressure after Dr Hughes pointed it out. However, he said the new entry “unfortunately remains ambiguous”.
“This definition still leaves the question open as to how a siphon actually works,” Dr Hughes said.
“But at least the reference to atmospheric pressure has been removed. The vast majority of dictionaries of all languages still incorrectly assert that siphons work through atmospheric pressure and not gravity.
Three cheers for scientists who pay attention to dictionaries, and for the lexicographers who listen to them! I have to point out, however, that the entry linked to is from an Oxford English dictionary, not the Oxford English Dictionary, whose entry is from 1911 and has a small-type section beginning “The way the action of the siphon is explained has varied” and citing explanations dating back to 1675.