Australian physicist spots dictionary error

SYDNEY (AFP) – An Australian physicist has uncovered an error in dictionary definitions that has likely stood uncorrected for a century.

A man pulls a siphon hose. AFP file

University of Queensland academic Stephen Hughes found that entries for the word 'siphon' incorrectly said atmospheric pressure is the force that allows the device to move liquids from one place to another.

"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," he 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.

Hughes, whose fields of study include astronomy, meteors, planets and the moon, said he first found the error in the Oxford English Dictionary last year.

He said a spokeswoman for the Oxford English Dictionary had told him he was the first person to question the definition of siphon, which dated from 1911 and had been written by editors who were not scientists.

But she said that his views would be taken into account as they updated the entire reference book which, according to the dictionary's website, is now up to the letter R.

"I thought, 'oh good, just in time', because S is next," Hughes said.

A siphon is a tube -- often u- or v-shaped -- that is used to move liquids from one container to another. It is commonly used to drain fish tanks or petrol tanks.

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