Monday 26 September 2011

The Esquivalient Cartographer

Many moons ago, I wondered whether there was a lexicographic equivalent of a cartographer's folly. Basically, mapmakers put tiny mistakes into their maps so that they can prove that a rival has simply copied from them. So I was wondering whether dictionaries did the same thing. And it turns out that they do.

The New Oxford American Dictionary apparently included the word esquivalience as just such a copyright trap. The entry ran:

Esquivalience—n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities ... late 19th cent.; perhaps from the French esquiver, ‘dodge, slink away.’

Which is rather appropriate. The trick worked as well. included the word and credited it to their paper-sister publication Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English. So the lexicographer's folly exists. have since removed the word.

Mind you, I think esquivalient is rather a beautiful word, and intend to use it for every workshy lollygagger I come across.

Of course, in some ways, Blackadder got there first with his contrafibularities.

American readers should now recognise Hugh Laurie.

P.S. This article also has a nice bit about Mountweazels.

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