Over at this Public Address there’s an entry investigating the history of words beginning “porno-,” in the course of which the following nugget is unearthed from the OED:

(in Cent. Dict. and Funk’s Standard Dict.), a spurious word, due to a misreading or misprint of primal.

It’s amusing not only that the august Century (1889-91) inserted this Freudian slip, but also that the Funk & Wagnalls (1893-95) swiped it and got caught. Crime doesn’t pay!


  1. Reminds me of the intentional errors mapmakers usually include on their maps to snag IP theft. I was a victim of this once when I tried to take a street listed on a map that didn’t exist (and never had) in the real world.

  2. Dictionaries do this too. So do Mortal Combat faqs 😉

  3. It was a pretty common phenomenon in the making of the original OED that spurious words (usually called “ghost words”) would appear, or would be close to appearing. One which almost did was the word “brean.” Murray was, however, able to contact Robert Louis Stevenson directly, from whose work the citation came, and ask about it. Turns out it was a printer’s mistake and should have been “ocean.”
    This story is from the second chapter, by Elizabeth Knowles, from Lexicography and the OED: Pioneers in the Untrodden Forest, which is a good read.
    The unreliability came from bad work by volunteers, bad handwriting, bad transcription, and willful misunderstandings.

  4. One of my favorite ghost words is dord ( Why say “density” when you can say “dord”?

  5. Yes, I’ve always liked “dord” myself — I think it was the first “ghost word” I learned about.
    But “brean” is good too. What do you call a word that doesn’t even make it to the status of a lexicographical ghost, I wonder?

  6. Ben Yackley says

    So does this mean I can now refer to the “dord of the pornial brean” and it’ll mean something?

  7. I don’t know about meaning something, but it would fit beautifully into “The Hunting of the Snark.”

  8. The dord of the pornial brean, in case anyone is wondering, is about 1027 kg/m³.

  9. Huh, I see this Public Address carried on all the way to October 19, 2016, at which point it suddenly froze up. I hope Jeff’s OK.

  10. Perhaps he succumbed to fb and twitter. I don’t know if that counts as still ok.

  11. At least it’s curable.

  12. LH, the go-to blog for mathematical in-jokes and Facebook rehab.

  13. The link for the entry no longer works. The new URL is .

    And Jeff did experiment with Twitter, it appears, but didn’t catch the bug.

Speak Your Mind