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The Oxford English Dictionary Forgot to Include This Word for 50 Years

Reader's Digest logo Reader's Digest 1/18/2018 Brooke Nelson
a close up of a book © Dmitry Elagin/Shutterstock

The dictionary is probably your go-to source for checking facts and spelling. But these little (or rather, big!) books have a surprising history of inaccuracy, just like this clever way that dictionary editors prank each other. Now, there’s one more thing that dictionary devotees need to watch out for: missing words.

Take the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), for example. Assembling the OED was a chaotic and disorganized process, and the staff spent nearly 70 years cataloging and defining all 414,825 words. As a result, many terms were misplaced in the shuffle. It’s somewhat of a miracle, then, that only one word managed to slip through the cracks completely: bondmaid, which means 'a slave girl.'

If you’ve never heard of it, we don’t blame you; this word is not commonly used today. The term was most popular in the 16th century, dating all the way back to a 1526 translation of the Bible. But when the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, this ancient word was mistakenly omitted.

Related: 10 Surprising Words That Were Added to the Dictionary in 2017

Rumor has it that when OED editor James Murray found out about the mistake, he turned red with embarrassment. 'The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled,' he wrote to an anonymous contributor.

It took almost five decades to fix the error, Mental Floss reports. (Given how long it takes to read the entire dictionary, that’s not surprising.) Fortunately, the lost word made its dictionary debut in 1933, when the second edition was published.

Although the Oxford English Dictionary has continued to expand since 1888, it thankfully hasn’t forgotten to include a word since this unfortunate mishap. Speaking of, check out the most surprising words added to the dictionary this year.

[Source: Mental Floss]

Related Video: Words Created the Year You Were Born

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