Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Lexicographical Lapses

It is inevitable that errors will creep into a book of 822 pages with double columns, but Robert Hendrickson's Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd edition (New York: Facts on File, 2004), seems to have more than its fair share of mistakes. Maybe the following blemishes will disappear in a third edition.

abracadabra (p. 3):
It was first mentioned in a poem by Quintus Severus Sammonicus in the third century.
The poet's name was Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, not Quintus Severus Sammonicus.

accolade (p. 5):
In medieval times men were knighted in a ceremony called the accolata (from the Latin ac, "at," and collum, "neck"), named for the hug around the neck received during the ritual, which also included a kiss and a tap of a sword on the shoulder. From accolata comes the English word accolade for an award or honor.
There is a Latin word ac, but it means "and," not "at." The Latin word for "at" or "to" is ad, which becomes ac- when prefixed to words beginning with c-.

by George (p. 121):
The name George has its origins in the Greek Georgos, "a farmer," literally a worker of the earth. The word comes from the Greek ge, "the earth," and legon, "a work," which also gives us Virgil's Georgics, an "agricultural poem" about the land and the men working it.
The Greek for "a work" is ergon, not legon.

derelict (p. 204):
Deriving from the Latin derelictus, "to forsake wholly, abandon," derelict at first meant any piece of property abandoned by its owner, being first recorded in 1649.
The infinitive derelinquere means "to forsake wholly, abandon." Its perfect passive participle, derelictus, means "having been forsaken, abandoned."

female (p. 257):
Male for a man comes from another Latin word, mas, which became masaulus and then masclus in Latin and finally male in French, from which it came into English as male.
Read masculus for masaulus.

fiddle while Rome burns (p. 259):
However, it could be that Nero climbed the tower of Maecenus on the third day of the fire and recited Priam's lament over the burning of Troy to musical accompaniment, as other accounts say.
Read Maecenas for Maecenus.

hang by a thin thread (p. 331):
The flatterer Damocles annoyed Dionysus the Elder of Syracuse with his constant references to the ruler's great power and consequent happiness.
Read Dionysius for Dionysus.

heliotrope (p. 341):
Many plant leaves and flowers turn toward the sun. The ancient Greeks noticed that this fragrant vanilla-scented perennial flower (Heliotropum arborsecems), often called "cherry pie," did so and called it the heliotrope, from the Greek heleo, "sun," and trepo, "turning to go into it."
Read arborescens for arborescems, helios for heleo, and turn for turning.

hoi polloi (p. 352):
Hoi polloi means the masses, the crowd, deriving from the Greek hoi pol'oi "the many."
The Greek is hoi polloi, not hoi pol'oi.

hydrangea (p. 366):
The Greeks of old thought this plant's seed capsule looked like a "water cup" and named it from the Greek hydr, "water," and angos, "seed" or "capsule."
The Greek word for "water" is hydor, which becomes hydr- or hydro- in composition.The Greek word for "seed" is sperma, not angos, which means "vessel" or "pitcher."

man is a wolf to man (p. 465):
But the expression is much older, dating, back at least to the Roman playwright Plautus in his Asimaria.
Remove the comma after dating and read Asinaria for Asimaria.

manniporchia (p. 465):
Curiously, only in northern Maryland does this word, deriving from the Greek mania a potu, (craziness from drink) mean the D.T.'s (delirium tremens).
Mania is Greek, but the words a potu are Latin, not Greek.

obese (p. 524):
Obese means very fat indeed, but the word comes from the Latin obesus, which is, ironically, the past participle of obdere, "to gnaw, to eat away, to thin."
Read obedere for obdere.

venial sin (p. 753):
Its opposite, a mortal sin, is a sin that deserves everlasting punishment, a deadly sin, from the Latin mort, "death."
There is no Latin word mort. Read mors, whose oblique cases all start with mort-.

Call this petty, pedantic carping if you will, but "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Besides, we expect accuracy in a dictionary.

Other posts from this blog on Hendrickson's errors:

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