Fictitious entry

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Fictitious entries, also known as fake entries, Mountweazels, and Nihilartikels, are deliberately incorrect entries or articles in reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps and directories. Entries in reference works normally originate from a reliable external source, but no such source exists for a fictitious entry.

Fictitious entries can be humorous hoaxes intended to be more or less quickly recognized as false by the reader or copyright traps deliberately inserted into a work to facilitate detection of copyright infringement or plagiarism.

One would typically only stumble upon a fictitious entry by chance. Some, however, are more likely to be discovered because they are closely related to a well-known fictitious subject. For example, a fictitious entry in an otherwise non-fictional reference work might define or explain a term from a work of fiction, give a biography of a character from a novel, or describe a fictional institution, without explaining that it is fictitious.

There does not appear to be any commonly used English-language term for this phenomenon. The neologism Mountweazel was coined by the The New Yorker magazine based on a fictitious entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.[1] Another term, Nihilartikel, is of uncertain origin, combining the Latin word nihil, "nothing" with German Artikel, "article".[2] There is also the specific term trap street.


[edit] Character

It is not always simple to recognize these. It is especially difficult when the same fictitious entry is reprinted and adapted by multiple reference works. In such cases, the multiple sources serve to bolster the entry's authenticity, so that many come to believe that they are reading a factual article.

Uncovering fictitious entries is a part of the game for editors and publishers. In some cases, the game can extend beyond a single work, as an academic parody or a satire is reproduced, quoted, or otherwise extended into multiple publications such as encyclopedias or science periodicals.

One can only speculate about fictitious entries that go undiscovered, especially once a work becomes very old. Katharina Hein writes, "Insiders assume that every encyclopedia contains wrong keywords."

There is great stylistic variance in fictitious entries: some are simple parodies that are easily seen through, but others are carefully constructed pastiches that imitate factual entries so well that they are very difficult to detect. Fictitious entries normally follow the same structure as a standard entry: biographies have a structure that is particularly identifiable, and therefore false biography articles are the most common type of fictitious entries.

[edit] Motivations for creation

Besides the obvious possibility of simple playful mischief, fictitious entries may be composed for other purposes. Chief among these is to catch copyright infringers. By including a trivial piece of false information in a larger work, it is far easier to demonstrate that someone has plagiarized that work: they will presumably copy the fictitious entry along with other articles.

This is very similar to the inclusion of one or more trap streets on a map or invented phone numbers in a telephone directory. Neither of these is effective for copyright purposes in the United States; see Feist v. Rural, Fred Worth lawsuit or Nester's Map & Guide Corp. v. Hagstrom Map Co., 796 F.Supp. 729, E.D.N.Y., 1992.[3] However, these traps may still be useful. Even if the trap cannot be used in a court, it still helps a business owner to detect copying.

An outright forgery intended to mislead the reader on a matter of substance would not generally be classed as a mere fictitious entry.

[edit] Examples

[edit] Official sources

Most listings of the members of the German parliament (including its own website) feature the fictitious politician Jakob Maria Mierscheid, allegedly a member of the parliament since 1979. Among other activities he is reported to have contributed to a major stone-louse symposium in Frankfurt (see below).

[edit] Reference works

The German-language Der neue Pauly. Enzyklopaedie der Antike, edited by H. Cancik and H. Schneider, vol. 1 (Stuttgart, 1986, ISBN 3-476-01470-3) includes a fictitious entry now well-known amongst classicists: a deadpan description of an entirely fictional Roman sport, apopudobalia, which resembles modern football (soccer).

Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography (1887-89) contains about 200 fictitious entries.

Zzxjoanw was the last entry in Rupert Hughes’ Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia of 1903, and subsequent editions down to the 1950s, which was claimed to be a Maori word for a drum. It was later proved to be a hoax (not least because there is no Z, X or J in the Maori language).

The 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia contains a fictitious entry on Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-73), purportedly an American photographer.

The first printing of the 1980 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians contains two fictitious entries. The first is on Guglielmo Baldini, a non-existent Italian composer, and the second was on the subject of Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup, who purportedly composed a small amount of music for flute. Esrum-Hellerup's surname derives from a Danish village and a suburb in Copenhagen. The two entries were removed from later editions, as well as from later printings of the 1980 edition. A third spurious entry, "Verdi, Lasagne", was apparently circulated among the editorial staff and nearly reached the printer, but was pulled at the last minute.[citation needed]

The New Oxford American Dictionary, in August 2005, gained media coverage[4] when it was leaked that the second edition contained at least one fictional entry. This was later determined to be the word esquivalience, defined as "the wilful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities," which had originally been added in the first, 2001, edition. It was intended as a copyright trap, as the text of the book was distributed electronically and thus very easy to copy.

The German-language medical encyclopedia Pschyrembel Klinisches Wörterbuch features an entry on the Steinlaus (Stone Louse, Petrophaga lorioti), a rock-eating animal. The scientific name implies the origin: a creation of the German humorist Loriot. The Pschyrembel entry was removed in 1996, but after reader protests was entered again the next year, with an extended section on the stone louse's involvement in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Swedish music encyclopedia Sohlmans musiklexikon contains an obviously facetious entry about Metaf Üsic (a pun on the Swedish spelling and pronunciation of metaphysics, "metafysik"), an alleged Turkish synth artist and musical scholar, whose research interest were the beards of famous musicians and the importance of facial hair in making music.[1][2]

The German-language Wikipedia contained an entry about a fictional insect called "Leuchtschnabelbeutelschabe" from early 2003 until 22 July, 2008, when its community chose to delete the article.

A fictitious Danish municipality called "Æblerød" (see Danish article: da:Æblerød) was added to the English language Wikipedia in January 2004. Before the entry was deleted 20 months later, it had made it into the Portuguese language Wikipedia, and including mirrors of Wikipedia it had more than 700 Google hits in December 2006. Danmarks Radio reports the hoax was created by the Danish computer science student Jens Roland and some friends.[5] They also added false entries involving Æblerød to other works. Roland says they wanted to investigate what one could get away with, and for how long. He has commended Wikipedia for getting it corrected.

The entry for the word searbhónta ("servant") in the Irish-language dictionary Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla ("Irish-English Dictionary") by Niall Ó Dónaill notes that the word has the "variant form" searbhfhoghantaidhe, with several extra letters which are neither pronounced, nor have they any etymological justification. While the unabridged version of the dictionary frequently takes into account variant dialectal forms of many words in Irish in this way, searbhfhoghantaidhe is only a baroquely written, hyper-correct form from the days of the old orthography, which might have been found just once or twice in a manuscript, but which the dictionary-makers would normally not bother to include. It is probably used as a copyrighting device, similarly to a fictitious entry.[citation needed]

Joel Whitburn's pop chart research books say that Ralph Marterie's version of "The Song Of Love" peaked at #84 for the week ending December 26, 1955. However, Billboard Magazine did not put out an issue that week, and Marterie never recorded this tune.

[edit] April Fool's

Discover magazine frequently runs one fake article in their April edition as an April Fool's joke. The articles are often so outrageous that they are hard to miss, yet the next month's issue frequently has angry letters from readers who feel misled or quote bad science. Examples have included the discovery of the "Bigon"[6] (a subatomic particle the size of a bowling ball) and of the "Hotheaded Naked Ice Borer" (an Antarctic predator resembling a Naked Mole Rat that burrows through ice).

San Serriffe was originally the topic of an April Fool's article in The Guardian.

The American Science and Surplus catalog of educational and scientific supplies lists a "Find the fake catalog item" contest in the April edition of their catalog.

Scientific American usually has a hoax article each April, such as the disproof of the four color theorem, and discovery of a computer made of ropes and pulleys by the ancient "Apraphulians". In an April 2005 editorial entitled "Okay, We Give Up", the magazine apologized for favoring evolution over creationism. [7]

The Economist occasionally runs April Fool's articles. Examples include articles on genetically engineered pet dragons, the adoption of a 10-hour day and the harmonization of EU birth rates.[8]

[edit] Culinary

Swedish Lemon Angels, an impossible recipe listed in the book How to Play with Your Food by Penn and Teller, wherein lemon juice is combined with sodium bicarbonate effecting an effervescent and messy chemical reaction. Whilst not intended as a copyright trap, the recipe has worked its way into many other recipe books and online databases, usually with no regard for the culinary worth of the end product.

[edit] Trivia books, etc.

The book The Golden Turkey Awards describes many bizarre and obscure films. The authors of the work state that one film described by the book is a complete hoax, and challenge readers to spot the made-up film; the imaginary film was Dog of Norway, which supposedly starred "Muki the Wonder Dog", which in reality was the authors' own dog. [3] (Also mentioned in the book is the "gay Jesus film" HIM, also long thought to be a hoax, but apparently actually was made and shown to audiences.)

The Trivia Encyclopedia placed deliberately false answers for a limited number of quiz questions, for copy-trap purposes; this was tested when the makers of Trivial Pursuit based some of their questions on the work.[9]

The Urban Legends Reference Pages ( include a section entitled The Repository of Lost Legends, containing false discussions of made-up legends (for example, that the bear in the design of the Flag of California is the result of a handwritten note being misread and that it was meant to be a pear). The aim of the stories in the section is to caution readers against using appeals to authority, and encourage the checking of references for claims that seem unreasonable; the initials of "The Repository of Lost Legends" spells out TROLL. Ironically, within another of the Urban Legends Reference Pages, there are two records of entities who have fallen for the trap,[10] one being the TV show Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed,[11] and another on a trivia board game called Urban Myth.[12]

[edit] Other

Australian archaeologist Tim Flannery's book Astonishing Animals, written in collaboration with painter Peter Schouten, describes some of the more outlandish animals alive on Earth. They caution that one of the animals is a product of their imagination and it is up to the reader to distinguish which one it is.

Rhinogradentia are an entirely fictitious mammalian order, extensively documented in a series of articles and books by the equally fictitious German naturalist Harald Stümpke. Both the animals and the scientist were allegedly creations of Gerolf Steiner, a zoology professor at the University of Heidelberg.

In 1978, the fictional Ohio towns of Goblu and Beatosu were inserted into that year's official State of Michigan map as a nod to the University of Michigan's traditional rivals from Ohio State University.[13] The doctored maps were withdrawn and now fetch up to $150 in mint condition.

Mount Richard is the name of a fictitious peak that appeared on county maps in the early 1970's. It was believed the work of Richard Ciacci, draftsman. It was located on the continental divide. The fiction was not discovered until two years later.[14]

The town of Agloe, New York was invented by map makers but eventually became a real place.

Each issue of the product catalogue for Swedish consumer electronics/hobby articles retailer Teknikmagasinet contains a fictitious product. Finding that product is a contest, "Blufftävlingen", where the best suggestion for another fictitious product from someone who spotted the product gets included in the next issue.[15]

Muse (a magazine for children 10-14) includes as a regular feature a two-page spread containing science and technology news. One of the news stories is false and the reader is encouraged to guess which one.

[edit] In fiction

Author Isaac Asimov wrote The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline in 1948. At first glance it appears to be a genuine, highly complex, scientific essay; however on closer analysis one finds it is science fiction presented as a clever parody of opaque scientific writing: it describes a substance that is dissolved before coming in contact with the solvent.

A Fred Saberhagen Berserker science fiction short story, "The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron," has a Berserker directed to a star system by an encyclopedia salesman. The salesman is put on trial for treason, but reveals that the encyclopedia article for the star system, with population figures, resources, etc., was a fictitious entry included in the encyclopedia to detect plagiarism; thus the Berserker actually ended up in an empty star system where it ran out of fuel and ceased to be a threat to humanity.

[edit] Related types of text

In contrast to fictitious entries, which are false information in a real encyclopedia, there are also literary encyclopedia fictions. For instance, in Jorge Luis Borges's story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", the narrator claims to have come across an encyclopedia entry for "Uqbar" in a copy of The Anglo American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917), a pirated version of the Encyclopædia Britannica; later he encounters a volume of the (entirely imaginary) First Encyclopaedia of Tlön. The Borges story is laced with references to people and works, some of them real, others imaginary, any of them liable to send the reader to an encyclopedia (or, nowadays, the World Wide Web) for further information. It is quite possible that any number of fictitious entries might be available to convince the unwary reader of the factuality of some of Borges's fictional creations.

Borges often worked in other related forms, including literary forgeries (such as passages in the style of Emanuel Swedenborg or from the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights) and reviews of imaginary books.

In a similar vein, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd's 1983 book The Meaning of Liff created imaginary definitions for real British place-names, such as Huttoft and Mavis Enderby.

Penny Arcade webcomic scribes Tycho and Gabe created in 2005 an open Wiki detailing the fictitious book series Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga[16] which was (ostensibly) intended as a parody of popular fantasy fiction. Infamously, this "saga" was first attempted to be introduced into Wikipedia, only to be quickly excised as "fancruft," and prompting Tycho to bear a grudge against the digital encyclopedia.

Another similar phenomenon is the satiric work masquerading as non-fiction. Probably the best English-language example of the latter is Leonard C. Lewin's Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace,[17] widely misinterpreted as an actual think-tank report. A. P. Herbert wrote a series of imagined law reports called "Misleading Cases" in Punch, later republished in books, and wrote in the preface that he had been gratified to find some of them quoted as though actual court decisions. Similarly, some papers in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, a journal of parodies of scientific papers, are plausible enough to be mistaken for reality; a JIR article on atomic bomb construction was even reported to be taken seriously by a terrorist group. Articles in the parody newspaper The Onion have occasionally been picked up and reported as if they were genuine.

Sometimes ghost words (in Classics vox nihili) resulting from typos or misreadings can be treated as real words. An example was dord, that was defined in 1934's Webster's Second New International Dictionary as "density", but was actually a misreading of "D or d," where the single letter was an abbreviation for the word.

"Salts" are fictitious entries added to mailing lists to detect misuse. When mailing list owners rent lists to third parties, the renter agrees to use the mailing list for only contractually agreed-upon times. The owner typically enforces this by "salting" the mailing list with fake addresses and creates new salts for each time the list is rented. By collecting mail sent to those addresses, the owner can detect misuse. By changing the fake addresses each time the mailing list is rented, the owner can detect which rental contract is violated.

In the field of computer security, a "honeytoken" is an individual record, inserted into a database that includes sensitive information, which has no legitimate data and thus is extremely unlikely to ever be accessed legitimately.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Henry Alford, Not a word, New Yorker issue of August 29, 2005, posted to web July 22, 2005. Accessed August 31, 2006.
  2. ^ World Wide Words: Nihilartikel
  3. ^ Fred Greguras, U.S. Legal Protection for Databases, Presentation at the Technology Licensing Forum September 25, 1996. Archived March 1, 2005 on the Internet Archive.
  4. ^ Not a Word, New Yorker"
  5. ^ Danmarks Radio P1 (2006-12-06). Æblerød - Fiktiv fakta på nettet (recording of interview with Jens Roland in Danish). Retrieved on 2007-06-24.
  6. ^ (broken link) originally from Discover, April 1996. Accessed on, 31 August 2006.
  7. ^ Okay, We Give Up: Scientific American
  8. ^ April fools:
  9. ^ Columbo’s First Name and The Supreme Court - The “Philip Columbo” Story on Accessed 31 August 2006.
  10. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Humor (Media Goofs)
  11. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Mostly True Stories Sixpence Error
  12. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: Urban Myths Board Game Error
  13. ^ Monmonier, Mark (1996). How to Lie with Maps (2nd. ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 50-51. ISBN 0226534219. 
  14. ^ Monmonier, Mark (1996). How to Lie with Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 51. ISBN 0226534219. 
  15. ^ Teknikmagasinet - meningen med livet
  16. ^ Epic Legends… site
  17. ^ Report From Iron Mountain at the Museum of Hoaxes. Accessed 2 April 2008. See also Lewin's Los Angeles Times obituary, reproduced online.

[edit] References

[edit] Further reading

The literature about fakes, parody, travesty and pastiche barely touches upon the phenomenon of the fictitious entries. This may be because reference books are not in the view of the people writing on these topics. Among the few exceptions are two German language articles:

  • Katharina Hein's "Der Orthodidakt" in Berliner Morgenpost, July 16, 2000
  • Michael Ringel's "Fehlerquelle" ("Sources of error"), in the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, number 41, 1998
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