or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Wrong and Wronger

I don't make fun of ordinary people who guess at etymologies and get them wrong. (I reserve my scorn for people who ought to know better and have no excuse.) I do think that if you're posting to the Internet, you can look up the etymology before you commit it, and your wrongness, to print, and there isn't much of an excuse, but I still don't judge too harshly.

On the science-fiction website io9, there's this article about hideous shoes (they're still not as hideous as Crocs), and one of the pictures has the word "orthotics" in it. Someone in the comments section says,

Doesn't "orthotic" mean "correct ear", or something like that?

You can see where they might have gotten that idea: "ortho-" does in fact mean "to correct, to make straight", from Greek "orthoun", "to straighten", and "otic" is an adjective meaning "of or related to the ear". However, "-otic" is also a suffix, the adjectival form of the noun suffix "-osis", which denotes conditions or states: "hypnosis/hypnotic", say, or "tuberculosis/tuberculotic". ("Tubercular" is more usually heard as the adjective in that case, but both are correct.) "Orthotic", therefore, is the adjectival form of "orthosis", the correction of orthopedic problems, which is to say those that involve the skeleton and its associates, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. ("Orthotic" is also, in the usual way of English, now a noun as well, referring to the shoe inserts that do the correcting of postural problems.)

However, I am extremely grateful for that mistaken etymology, because it led me in the course of my research to the Dictionary.com page for "orthotic", which contains the most amazing statement:

adj. deriv. of ORTHOSIS (on the model of PSYCHOSIS: PLYCHOTIC).

Yes, it actually says "plychotic". No, there isn't any such word as "plychotic". Yes, they meant to say "psychotic". No, they didn't, despite being a dictionary and all, run it through a spell-checker or do any other kind of error-catching. Yes, they should be ashamed of themselves.

I even looked for "plychotic" in the OED, just to make absolutely sure it wasn't a word of any sort, and of course it isn't. However, there was a charming word nearby that you ought to know about: "plychon". Don't you love it already? A plychon was--the word is quite obsolete--a dental tool, used for pulling teeth, and seems to have gotten its name from its shape; the word is apparently a corruption of "pelican".


Blogger Frank said...

Have you contacted the site to tell them of the error? It must be oddly thrilling to be able to call the dictionary out on a mistake.

Sunday, February 10, 2008 1:28:00 AM  

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