Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Of Siphons and Serendipity

Photo: www.csiro.au

Brittle Paper shares Dr. Hughes’ excitement at discovering an error in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The dictionary, claims Hughes, wrongly attributes the force behind a siphon to atmospheric pressure instead of to gravity. Dr. Hughes is a physics professor in an Australian university, an expert on siphons, a scientist of the first order but one who stands the chance of been remembered only for the grounds he broke in lexicography.

Thanks to Hughes, 99 years of darkness perpetuated by a book whose purity is supposed to be of biblical proportion has come to an end. But it is hard to miss the embarrassing silence with which the curtain of enlightenment falls on a century long error. Maybe things would have been different if, randomly speaking, siphons were invisible condoms that exploded when exposed to extreme gravity. Unluckily for the honest doctor, a siphon is merely a pipe that conveys liquid from one container to another. By gravity or by atmospheric pressure? As one commenter notes, setting the record straight is not going to improve the methods for siphoning petrol from a car.

Did Hughes really discover an error? Can a siphon occur in a vacuum? Are there other causes besides gravity and atmospheric pressure? Does the dictionary have to include all? Is the dictionary’s omission really a matter of emphasis? Is Hughes’ discovery spurious? A good number of the101 comments at the Sidney Morning Herald revolve around these questions. But the first comment set the ground for a far more important controversy, which is the triviality of the doctor’s discovery: “Yaaaaawn. And we are paying people like this to do such hugely IMPORTANT work like this?? Biiiig deal!” — by a commenter named Thrilled.

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Of Siphons and Serendipity” Subscribe

  1. Boye 2010/08/04 at 18:33 #

    I always despair at people eager to condemn discovery or enlightenment as banal no matter how trivial the discovery may seem. We live in an era where many lament all the true great discoveries have been made but often a lot of what we deem true or assume as correct is not and waits for someone who sees behind the mask of the obvious.

  2. Ainehi 2010/08/04 at 19:37 #

    Your criticism is astute and makes me reflect on the disappearance of the inventor and the discover. I supposed we live in a world where the new has become banal.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Photos | Happy Birthday to Ainehi Edoro, Founder and Editor of Brittle Paper

Ainehi Edoro 2

One evening in mid-2010, in her apartment in Chicago, Ainehi Edoro, then a PhD student at Duke University, looked up […]

Lola Shoneyin is a Cover Star on Guardian Life Magazine

lola

It’s almost two years since Uzodinma Iweala, author of Beast of No Nation, graced the cover of Guardian Life Magazine, […]

Uzodinma Iweala Unveils Official Author Photos In Advance of His New Novel’s Release

uzodinma iweala

Uzodinma Iweala unveils official author photographs ahead of the March 2018 release of his highly-anticipated novel, Speak No Evil. While […]

Luvvie Ajayi Spectacularly Demystifies the Fear of Telling Truth to Power

luvvie

  If don’t know Luvvie Ajayi, it’s a sign that you are reading way too many African fiction and not […]

The Chimamanda Adichie Guide to Becoming a Fashion Icon

Screen-Shot-2017-11-05-at-2.26.56-PM-e1509913965318 copy

Fashion and style have traditionally being the cultural domain of pop-stars. It’s a sphere of influence that public intellectuals have […]

Ayobami Adebayo Honoured at The Future Awards, Alongside WizKid, Davido and Anthony Joshua

Ayobami-Adebayo-Baileys-Women-Prize-Ventures-Africa

Ayobami Adebayo, author of the Baileys Prize-shortlisted novel Stay with Me, has been honoured at the 2017 The Future Awards, […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.