Flat Stanley Learns the Definition of Siphon
Flat Stanley learns the definition of siphon in the OED, which credits atmospheric pressure for the motion of liquids rather than gravity, has been wrong since 1911. A dictionary spokesperson says, well, the definition was written by an editor not a physicist, but what, Flat Stanley wonders, about every other word: from history, from gastronomy, trade, words about rocks and electricity and absence and blood vessels and time. Are there teams of definition specialists, is there a hierarchy. Is an editor proud when she is assigned space or boyfriend or zebra. How is it possible the people defining words are just people like us, people who have never seen a quark, who love clumsily and can’t say what they want or draw gas from someone else’s snowblower in a way that doesn’t fill up their mouths with fuel, and who defines say and want and us.
Jennifer A. Howard edits Passages North and teaches English in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Illustration by Jeremy Anderson.