Nigerian lawyer sues University over dictionary definition

On behalf of the claimant, Ogu ordered the court to direct OUP to ensure that every dictionary they publish includes the phrase: “The dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only."

Activist Ogedi Ogu has asked a Nigerian high court to direct Oxford University Press to pay N10m (£20,500) in damages for allegedly defining a word incorrectly.

Ogu represents claimant Emmanuel Ofoegbu, who is bringing a case to the Lagos High Court Igosere against the University of Oxford and Oxford University Press (OUP).

On behalf of the claimant, Ogu ordered the court to direct OUP to ensure that every dictionary they publish includes the phrase: “The dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only, and that anyone who relies on definition of words in their dictionary as an alternative to seeking independent legal or financial advice, does so at his own risk.”

Ofoegbu, for whom English is a second language, said that the University of Oxford is reputed as the world authority for the English language and that many people rely on its definition of English words.

The claimant allegedly purchased two dictionaries published by the OUP, the Oxford Mini Reference Dictionary and the Oxford English Mini Dictionary, in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

Ofoegbu alleged that the dictionaries defined the word “mortgagee” as the borrower in a mortgage transaction, and the work “mortgagor” as the lender. He said he relied on these definitions while providing legal advice to a professional colleague.

He then alleged that the colleague corrected his definition by directing him to other dictionaries, not published by OUP, that define the mortgagee as the lender and the mortgagor as the borrower.

Ofoegbu claims this incident led his colleagues to stop asking his opinion or advice on legal issues, causing him embarrassment and a loss of professional esteem. Ofoegbu said that on 4th November 2016, he directed his lawyers to notify the defendants of his intention to press charges for their wrong definition.

The defendants allegedly replied to his letter on 30th November 2016, admitting to the supposed wrong definition but refusing to accept liability.

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The defendants added: “Our dictionaries are made available as a reference tool only; they are never held out by OUP as being an alternative to seeking independent legal or financial advice, and we cannot take responsibility for an individual’s decision to use them as such.”

An OUP spokesperson told Cherwell that the publishing company was aware of the intended action, having received papers from Source Chambers. Cherwell has contacted the University for comment.

6 COMMENTS

  1. In the sixth paragraph, the word “work” should be “word”.

    Mortgagor is the lender
    Mortgagee is the borrower

  2. This is rather more embarrassing comment by OUP than the faulty meaning exchange. And as such,to say the least, the Oxford dictionary is no longer reliable. To ameliorate the situation and revive lost prestige and confidence of users like me,The OUP has to act quick and WISE.

  3. It is rather shocking to read that the OUP accept that they might be at fault but in the next breath, refuse to take any responsibility. In England, the OED is commonly regarded as the authority on definitions. So this article aroused my curiosity enough to find out that the Oxford English Dictionary have courted controversy more times than is acceptable for a dictionary. The word siphon has now been corrected but initially, was wrong for nearly a hundred years. The erroneous use of the word literally was added in the OED because of common usage from the populace. However, it’s definition was changed in 2013 as it was considered wrong and to “have literally slipped under the radar”. A little joke from Senior editor of OED, Fiona McPherson. Another example is the word a YouTuber. The OED define this word as meaning both the viewer and the content creator. This definition is disputed as the common use is purely for content creators. Admittedly, this is a relatively new word but more research should have been done before submitting the definition.

    I’m completely sympathetic with Mr. Ofoegbu, as his professional reputation has been affected and therefore, his career too. My attitude is that if a publication chooses to call themselves a dictionary then they must take responsibility for saying that their definition is accepted as definitive. Therefore, if any of their definitions are found to be erroneous then they must accept complete responsibility or stop referring to their book as a dictionary. Naturally, a dictionary is accepted as a reference tool but that doesn’t change the fact that in common usage it is also, used as being authoritive and conclusive. Good luck to both, Ogedi Ogu and Emmanuel Ofoegbu…

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