Caveat Lector Dictionaria/Encyclopedia

Every once in a while, I share one of the anagrams I found when plugging DevraDoWrite in at the Internet Anagram Server. Derivate Word is one that is appropriate for this post.

In my quest for truth and the proper use and spelling of words and facts, I naturally rely on dictionaries and encyclopedias. Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary sits on my desk, a Short Oxford English Dictionary is in my computer (on CD-ROM), Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music is on my bookshelf with other specialized tomes, and links to a number of online resources are bookmarked in my browser.

For fifty years I have trusted completely the entries found therein. (Okay, maybe only forty-four years as I didn’t learn how to use a dictionary until I was six). It never occurred to me to question a single definition…until now. Henry Alford informs us, in the pages of The New Yorker (August 29, 2005, page 32) that a made-up word appears in the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Richard Steins, one of the editors of the New Columbia Encyclopedia says, “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright.”

The fake in New Columbia is Lillian Mountweazel, a photographer who died while on assignment for Combustibles Magazine, and the culprit in Oxford American is esquivalience, purported to mean “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities.”

Talk about derivated words. I feel betrayed.