Saturday, April 11, 2009


Ever heard of Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, the famous photographer who perished prematurely in a terrible accident while on assignment for "Combustibles" magazine?

Or did she? In fact, mountweazel was an infamous "fake" entry in an edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia, inserted as a deliberate trap to catch potential lexicological plagiarists. The name has since become synonymous with any similar trap, generally a fake word or name devised by reference-book editors to trap plagiarists. In the world of cartography, it is not uncommon to invent non-existent streets, or to place non-existent curves in existing streets, with the same purpose in mind.

Another recent example in the world of dictionaries is the "word" esquivalience. From Wikipedia:

Esquivalience, according to the August 29, 2005 New Yorker article "Ink: Not a Word" by Henry Alford, is a fictitious entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD), which was designed and included to protect copyright of the publication. The word was invented by Christine Lindberg, one of the editors of the NOAD. It was leaked that the dictionary had put in a fake word in the letter "e" and Alford set out to find the word. It was discovered after review of a short list by several experts. When the editor, Erin McKean, was contacted she admitted that it was indeed a fake word and had been in since the first edition, in order to protect the copyright of the CD-ROM edition.

The word is defined as "the wilful avoidance of one's official responsibilities."

Other examples, in similar vein, include the delightful (but completely imaginary) food items: funistrada, buttered ermal, and braised trake.

Funistrada is an imaginary food name invented by the U.S. armed forces to see if participants of written food surveys were paying attention or just answering randomly. In a 1974 survey respondents ranked funistrada higher than eggplant, instant coffee, apricot pie, harvard beets, canned lima beans, grilled bologna, and cranberry juice. Two other imaginary foods fared less well - buttered ermal and braised trake.

A more dangerous food item is the infamous Swedish lemon angel, whose recipe calls for combining lemon juice and baking soda; if attempted, the result is the same as making a vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano.

Maybe it would be best just to stick to lamb for Easter lunch.

More about this subject can be found under the Wikipedia article on fictitious entries:

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