Sunday, June 17, 2007


A Ghost Word

Jim K drew my attention to a Wikipedia article on the Naked Mole Rat which contains the following sentence:
Radicivores, the naked mole rats feed primarily on very large tubers (weighing as much as 1000 times the body weight of a typical mole rat) that they find deep underground through their mining operations, though they also eat their own feces (homocropophagia).
Homocropophagia is a mistake for homocoprophagia, as the citation to Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene makes clear. On p. 314 of the 1989 reprint of the 1976 edition, Dawkins writes:
Mole rats are homocoprophagous, which is a polite way of saying that they eat one another's faeces (not exclusively: that would run afoul of the laws of the universe). Perhaps the large individuals perform a valuable role by storing up their faeces in the body when food is plentiful, so that they can act as an emergency larder when food is scarce--a sort of constipated commissariat.
Wikipedia s.v. ghost word:
A ghost word is a word that has been published in a dictionary, or has been adopted as genuine, as the result of misinterpretation or a typographical error.
Perhaps someone (not I) will correct the Wikipedia entry for Naked Mole Rat. But homocropophagia (and cropophagia) are found on other web pages as well. These words will doubtless continue their ghostly existence among the bits and bytes of cyberspace for many years to come.

So far as I can tell, this blog post contains the first occurrence of homocoprophagia (and homocoprophagy) on the Internet.


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