Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fake Entries

I found out yesterday that dictionaries, encyclopedias, and maps sometimes add fake entries. Why? To see if anyone is plagiarizing their work. If some map includes the same fake street as the map you made, you know they just copied you instead of doing the surveying themselves.

One of the more better known fake entries is "Lillian Virginia Mountweazel" from the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia.  The New Yorker wrote an article about this fake woman. This is what they said about her:
Turn to page 1,850 of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and you’ll find an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer turned photographer who was celebrated for a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes titled “Flags Up!” Mountweazel, the encyclopedia indicates, was born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942, only to die “at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”  If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”

Pretty interesting, huh? These fictitious entries are quite old and have since been adopted in many reference works, such as zzxjoanw (1905) and some of them are quite recent, such as the word esquivalience (2005). It makes you wonder how many fake entries are in the dictionary nowadays.


Kathy Haynie said...

Speaking of fake entries, I showed Mark your one-wing-stunt-plane-landing post, and he said it's a digitally altered video. Snopes says more about it here:

Bryan Lewis said...

Oh man. I thought that movie was real. That would have been cool if it was real.

Lisa Lou said...

One time in a paper for class, I put in random sentences just to see if my professor would notice. She didn't. It was pretty funny.

David Mayer said...

Oh so that's the reason that Wikipedia sometimes has faulty information! They're doing it on purpose to protect their copyright!


Jonell said...

I also thought it was real. But still it looks really cool. fake watches