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A hoax is a deliberate attempt to dupe, deceive or trick an audience into believing, or accepting, that something is real, when the hoaxster knows it is not; or that something is true, when in fact it is false. In an instance of a hoax, an object, or event, is not what it appears to be, or what it is claimed to be - for example, "snake oil," which was sold by 19th century traveling salesman in the United States as a cure-all. A hoax differs from a magic show in that the audience is unaware of being deceived - whereas in watching a magician perform a magical act, the audience expects to be tricked.

It is possible to perpetrate a hoax by making only true statements using unfamiliar wording or context (see Dihydrogen monoxide hoax). Unlike a fraud or con (which is usually aimed at a single victim and are made for illicit financial or material gain), a hoax is often perpetrated as a practical joke, to cause embarrassment, or to provoke social change by making people aware of something. Many hoaxes are motivated by a desire to satirize or educate by exposing the credulity of the public and the media or the absurdity of the target. For instance, the hoaxes of James Randi poke fun at believers in the paranormal and alternative medicine. The many hoaxes of Alan Abel and Joey Skaggs satirize people's willingness to believe the media. Political hoaxes are sometimes motivated by the desire to ridicule or besmirch opposing politicians or political institutions, often before elections. Journalistic scandals overlap with hoaxes to some extent.

Some governments have been known to perpetrate hoaxes to assist them with unpopular aims such as going to war (e.g., the Ems Telegram, or the Dodgy Dossier). In fact, there is often a mixture of outright hoax, and suppression and management of information to give the desired impression. In wartime, rumours abound; some may be deliberate hoaxes.

The word hoax is said to have come from the common magic incantation hocus pocus.[1] "Hocus pocus", in turn, is commonly believed to be a distortion of "hoc est corpus" ("this is the body") from the Latin Mass.


[edit] Character of hoaxes

Hoaxes are not always created, initiated or sourced the same way. Examples:

  • Hoax by tradition (see below)
  • Hoax by design (such as in war)
  • Hoax originating in legitimate non-hoax use (see email hoax below)
  • Hoax by scare tactics (virus hoaxes)
  • Urban legend

This is by no means a complete list; but the import is to show that hoaxes take many forms. The main characteristic of hoaxes is presenting the information or media as something real or believable to human understanding but is in fact false. Whether there is intent to deceive is not part of the hoax characteristics, as hoaxes are known both with and without it.

[edit] Hoax traditions

During certain events and at particular times of year, hoaxes are perpetrated by many people and groups. The most famous of these is certainly April Fool's Day, which is open season for pranks and dubious announcements.

A New Zealand tradition is the capping stunt, wherein university students perpetrate a hoax upon an unsuspecting population. The acts are traditionally executed near graduation (the "capping").

Many Spanish-speaking countries have Innocent's Day, on December 28, to make "innocent" a person with jokes and hoaxes. The origin for the pranking is derived from the Catholic feast day Day of the Holy Innocents for the infants slaughtered by King Herod at the time of Jesus' birth.

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ "hoax". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition. 2000. 

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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