Error!- The Many Mistakes of Merriam-Webster by Aaron Chang

Merriam-Webster’s great immensity, while being great for using in spelling bees, is also the greatest weakness of this dictionary. With such a large amount of entries in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, errors are inevitable. Sometimes words themselves are wrong, sometimes their pronunciations are questionable, and sometimes the definitions are affected. Let’s look at some examples!

Errors in the words themselves-

Sometimes words can have brackets that contain both part of the word and a specific accent the word would normally have. However, the accent in question is written out within the bracket. For example, the word {Ctilde}orum is supposed to be spelled Corum. However, the c as well as the word ‘tilde’ is spelled out in a bracket. However, the word Corum doesn’t actually have a tilde, but a cedilla, which is another mistake added upon the already existing one. Some other examples include:

Rishon Le{Zunderline}iyyon- (Rishon LeZiyyon and the z underline)

Pan{ndashIslamism- (Pan-Islam and the en dash)

Ball{ndash{strikers- (ball-strikers and the en dash)

Jalib ash Shuy{umadcr}kh- (Jalib ash Shuyukh and the macron possibly?)

Lefko{scedil}a- (Lefkosa and the cedilla)

Of course, there are blatant errors in the dictionary that do not involve brackets, like coehelminthic, Ppfitzer’s juniper, or rap&pels. It’s highly unlikely that the word has the rare ‘ppf’ combination at the beginning of the entry, or a random ampersand thrown into the middle. However, it’s always possible. 

Errors in the pronunciation-

This can be a tricky error to judge, as sometimes words have weird pronunciations. However, sometimes the error is blatant, and almost surely a mistake. A prime example of a pronunciation error is isabelline bear, which oddly uses the pronunciation of the word irrisor.


(kokil, a pun pund’arco, Catometopa/catometope, plesiosaur, arrhenokaryotic, Hallstattan, abogado, una de gato, moldwrap, bakauan, ipratropium, Accutane, Haemulidae, anda-assu, triduo, tribal, Sepiophora, triolet, Abt, stoccado, enmun, Sonoma, and countless others)

With words like kokil, it’s obvious that an error occurred as there is a variant present with a more reasonable pronunciation. With others, the pronunciations are questionable, but might not automatically mean an error is present. This can be seen in words like Tuolumne and Kolding. Another pronunciation quirk are when pronunciations are declared possibly errant by Merriam-Webster themselves with a ‘sic’ next to the pronunciation. This means that the pronunciation has been validated, however an error in pronunciation may have occurred at some time and just ended up sticking with the word. (Ertix, Kiritimas, Embarras, Nonthaburi, Gullfoss, and Keighley)

Errors in the definition-

Errors in the definition of a word are rare, but I have managed to find two. There are many more I am probably missing, but here are the two I have encountered:

Psocid- Instead of saying Psocidae, the definition lists psocid as meaning “related to the ‘Psoidae’”.


Chisinau- Here is another of our favorite bracket errors.

“Chişin{abrev}u is the capital of Moldova.”

(Chisinau and the breve accent)

*Mad props to Blake Bouwman, he showed me this error!*

Hope you learned something while reading this blog, and as always, happy studying!

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