Day 91

5.02: It wasn’t that long ago, was it, that I was banging on about words I don’t know the meaning of? The sensible answer, of course, is look them up in a dictionary. But that puts a whole load of epistemological pressure on the dictionary people. They have to have an answer to the meaning of everything. Want to know the meaning of love? Ask the dictionary people: they know everything. Meaning of life? Dictionary guys.

So, what happens when the dictionary people are wrong? Does that mean that things mean something else? Is it even possible for the dictionary to be wrong?

Well, it is. And has been for nearly a century. Since 1911, the OED’s been wrong about “siphon”. Remember that next time you’re broken down in a carpark sucking petrol from the back end of a Vauxhall Cavalier.

Here’s the key fact: the device you’re sucking through to get the fuel moving doesn’t work “by means of atmospheric pressure,” like the chaps who know everything say, but by humdrum planes-falling-out-of-the-sky gravity.

But when it’s been defined like that for 99 years, it’s sort of a piece of history now. So “siphon”, I think, ought to go on meaning “a (fictional) pipey thing that transfers fluid from one place to another by means of atmospheric pressure,” which means we need a new word to define the thing that “siphon” really means.

I suggest “dervskuttle”. As in, “Hand me my dervskuttle, Stephens; I’m off to drain the acquarium.”

6.57: A couple of tricky chapters to re-work, but on we go, merrily re-working them. All sorts of problems being addressed and eliminated, like the mystery of the vanishing dogs, who slavered and prowled about the early chapters, and apparently obsessed my imagination for a few weeks, before being utterly forgotten. I have despatched them humanely.

~ by David Thorley on May 11, 2010.

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