Menu
Scientific Advances
Natural compound speeds bone growth
Astronomers spy massive stars in the making
Frog gene map a leap forward for humans
Sun-shy mums may raise MS risk in babies
Soft fossils provide new target for ET search
Mammoth blood brought back to life
Outdoor exercise can boost self esteem
Athletes on growth hormone 'sprint faster'
Countdown begins to 520 day 'Mars mission'
Warmer planet to stress humans: study
Plasma rocket to shorten space voyages
Vaccine may trigger infant epilepsy onset
'Fingerprinting' points to dusty Australia
The hole in the ozone layer: 25 years on
Humans interbred with Neanderthals: analysis
Herschel shows star formation is slowing
Washing hands makes tough choices easier
'Face-book' to measure pain in mice
Science gives clues to World Cup success
Human sigh acts as a reset button
Expert confirms Phar Lap arsenic theory
Dictionary blunder a matter of gravity
Warning on high-dose vitamin D
Calling mum makes you feel better
Dictionary blunder a matter of gravity
An Australian physicist has found a basic error in the definition of the word 'siphon', which may have existed in dictionaries and text books around the world for almost a century.

The error, first found in the Oxford English Dictionary, has existed since 1911 according to Queensland University of Technology lecturer Dr Stephen Hughes.

He says, the dictionary incorrectly states that atmospheric pressure is what causes a siphon to move water.

"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."

According to Hughes, water flowing through a siphon acts as a chain, with the lower end pulling down the water above.

Hughes first detected the error while writing an article for the journal Physics Education, about a siphon he observed transferring water from the River Murray into Lake Bonney in South Australia.

He was surprised to find most dictionaries had the wrong definition.

"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."

Oxford English Dictionary spokesperson Margot Charlton says this the first time someone has queried the definition.

"The OED entry for siphon dates from 1911 and was written by editors who were not scientists," she wrote in a reply to Hughes.

"Our files suggest that no-one has queried the definition before. We are revising that entire dictionary text now, and I have copied your helpful comments to the revision file, to ensure they are taken into account when the entry is rewritten."

Hughes is concerned that this may not be the only instance of the incorrect definition.

"I would be very grateful if readers could let me know if the siphon misconception exists in dictionaries of other languages, and also if school teachers could let me know of either correct or incorrect definitions of the siphon in school text books," he says.
Translating science

Sue Butler, editor of the Australian Macquarie Dictionary, says while their definition of siphon isn't technically wrong, a new updated version is being written.

"I think it was not enough for the dictionary to avoid explaining what happens, so we rewrote our definition and I ran it past him [Hughes] and he had some input into how it was framed," she says.

Butler says the new definition will appear in the online edition towards the end of May, but it will not appear in print for a few years.

She says creating definitions for scientific terms in a general dictionary can be a difficult process.

"You have to understand the science and translate it for the general reader," says Butler. "That presents a real difficulty because quite often you're not going to end up with something scientists are going to be completely happy with."

"If you go too far towards removing technical jargon and simplifying the basic concept, you go can so far that you actually get it wrong."

Print
Climate change impact on malaria questioned
Single lens glasses can help prevent falls
Movies manipulate our primal response
Luminescent sharks become invisible
Synthetic biology research gets a hearing
Source of ancient carbon 'burp' detected
Why the goddess of love is in a spin
Computer program recognises online sarcasm
New dinosaur had record-sized horns
Physicists solve missing neutrino mystery
Milk from grass-fed cows may be better
Crabs caught spying on rivals' love claws
Lifestyle may not boost breast cancer gene risk
'Trade-off' gene for plants discovered
Pacific islands growing, not sinking
Caffeine addicts get no real perk
Velvet worm's deadly slime revealed
SpaceX cleared for Florida lift-off
Cyborg rights 'need debating now'
Sunlight shines on silver technology
Mountain biking as risky as football, diving
Dusty simulations may reveal planets
Legal fight over breast cancer gene
Unions call for urgent nano information
Solar panel attraction deadly for insects
Meat eaters munched many ways: study
Snakes may be in decline worldwide
Dogs dumbed down by domestication
Menu
Fossil sheds new light on 'dino-bird'
DNA 'spiderbot' is on the prowl
GM cotton use increases fruit pest problem
Warming to kill off a fifth of all lizards
Super massive black hole given the boot
Ball lightning could be 'all in the mind'
Immune system could be used to test for TB
Mobile phone cancer link unclear, study
Teen brain wired to take risks
Synchrotron probes Egyptian beads
Argonauts 'gulp' air to swim freely
Space station gets a new room
'Digital genome' to protect dying data formats
Sweep yields leads for new malaria drugs
Researchers snap signs of illegal fishing
Spectrum reveals supernova surprise
Scientists create synthetic life
Eavesdropping a waste of energy
Star caught eating its offspring
Megafauna die-off may have cooled planet
Hepatitis C no longer 'death sentence'
Atoms bring quantum computing closer
Visualisation staves off constant craving
Experts debate homeopathy funding