Fictitious entry

Fictitious entry

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Fictitious entries, also known as fake entries, Mountweazels, ghost word and nihil articles, 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. Copyright trap is a specific case where the motivation for the entry is to detect plagiarism
Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous...

 or copyright infringement
Copyright infringement
Copyright infringement is the unauthorized or prohibited use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.- "Piracy" :...


The neologism Mountweazel was coined by the magazine, The New Yorker
The New Yorker
The New Yorker is an American magazine of reportage, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, cartoons and poetry published by Condé Nast...

, based on a fictitious entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel in the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia. Another term, nihil article, is of uncertain origin first appearing on the German Wikipedia as Nihilartikel. It combines the Latin word nihil, "nothing" with German Artikel, "article".

Motivations for creation

Besides the possibility of playful mischief, fictitious entries may be composed to catch copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

 infringement. By including a trivial piece of false information in a larger work, it is easier to demonstrate plagiarism
Plagiarism is defined in dictionaries as the "wrongful appropriation," "close imitation," or "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work, but the notion remains problematic with nebulous...

 if the fictitious entry is copied along with other material. An admission of this motive appears in the preface to Chambers's
Chambers Harrap
Chambers Harrap Publishers is a reference publisher formerly based in Edinburgh, Scotland, which held the property rights of the venerable W.R.Chambers Publishers and its competitor George G. Harrap and Company .-History of Chambers:Chambers was founded as "W. & R...

 1964 mathematical tables: "those [errors] that are known to exist form an uncomfortable trap for any would-be plagiarist". This is very similar to the inclusion of one or more trap street
Trap street
A trap street is a fictitious entry in the form of a misrepresented street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, for the purpose of "trapping" potential copyright violators of the map, who will be unable to justify the inclusion of the "trap street" on their map...

s on a map
A map is a visual representation of an area—a symbolic depiction highlighting relationships between elements of that space such as objects, regions, and themes....

 or invented phone numbers in a telephone directory
Telephone directory
A telephone directory is a listing of telephone subscribers in a geographical area or subscribers to services provided by the organization that publishes the directory...


In the United States, they may be used to demonstrate copying, but are not always sufficient to prove legal infringement if the material was not eligible for copyright (see Feist v. Rural
Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service
Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 , commonly called Feist v. Rural, is an important United States Supreme Court case establishing that information alone without a minimum of original creativity cannot be protected by copyright...

, Fred Worth lawsuit or Nester's Map & Guide Corp. v. Hagstrom Map Co., 796 F.Supp. 729, E.D.N.Y., 1992.) These traps may still aid in detection of copying and may be proof of copyright infringement if the original material was eligible for copyright.

An outright forgery
Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

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

Official sources

Most listings of the members of the German parliament feature the fictitious politician Jakob Maria Mierscheid
Jakob Maria Mierscheid
Jakob Maria Mierscheid MdB has been a fictitious politician in the German Bundestag since 11 December 1979. He was then the alleged deputy chairman of the Mittelstandsausschuss of the Bundestag in 1981 and 1982...

, allegedly a member of the parliament since 1979. Among other activities he is reported to have contributed to a major symposium on the equally fictitious stone louse
Stone louse
The stone louse is a fictitious animal created by German humorist Loriot to parody nature documentaries...

 in Frankfurt.

Reference works

The German-language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 Der neue Pauly. Enzyklopaedie der Antike, edited by H. Cancik and H. Schneider, vol. 1 (Stuttgart, 1996, ISBN 3-476-01470-3) includes a fictitious entry now well-known amongst classicists: a deadpan description of an entirely fictional Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 sport, apopudobalia
Apopudobalia is the subject of a famous fictitious entry . Although no such sport actually existed, the German-language Der neue Pauly. Enzyklopaedie der Antike, edited by H. Cancik and H. Schneider, vol...

, which resembles modern football (soccer)
Football (soccer)
Association football, more commonly known as football or soccer, is a sport played between two teams of eleven players with a spherical ball...


Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography (1887-1889) contains about two hundred fictitious entries.

Zzxjoanw is a famous fictitious entry which fooled logologists for many years. In 1903, author Rupert Hughes published The Musical Guide, including a section containing a "pronouncing and defining dictionary of terms, instruments, etc"...

was the last entry in Rupert Hughes’ Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia of 1903, and it continued as an entry in subsequent editions down to the 1950s. It was identified as a Maori
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...

 word for a drum. Later, it was proved to be a hoax
A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences or April Fools' Day events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.-Definition:The British...

 (becoming suspect because there is no Z, X, or J in the Maori language
Maori language
Māori or te reo Māori , commonly te reo , is the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, the Māori. It has the status of an official language in New Zealand...


The 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia contains a fictitious entry on Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-1973). Her biography claims she was a fountain designer and photographer, best known for Flags Up!, a collection of photographs of rural American mailboxes
Letter box
A letter box, letterbox, letter plate, letter hole, mail slot, or mailbox is a receptacle for receiving incoming mail at a private residence or business...

. Supposedly she was born in Bangs, Ohio, and died in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine. Mountweazel was the subject of an exhibit in Dublin in March 2009 examining her fictitious life and works.

The first printing of the 1980 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians is an encyclopedic dictionary of music and musicians. Along with the German-language Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, it is the largest single reference work on Western music. The dictionary has gone through several editions since the 19th century...

contains two fictitious entries: on Guglielmo Baldini, a non-existent Italian composer, and Dag Henrik Esrum-Hellerup, who purportedly composed a small amount of music for flute
The flute is a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Unlike woodwind instruments with reeds, a flute is an aerophone or reedless wind instrument that produces its sound from the flow of air across an opening...

. Esrum-Hellerup's surname derives from a Danish village and a suburb in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

. The two entries were removed from later editions, as well as from later printings of the 1980 edition.

In August 2005, The New Oxford American Dictionary
New Oxford American Dictionary
The New Oxford American Dictionary is a single-volume dictionary of American English compiled by American editors at the Oxford University Press....

gained media coverage when it was leaked that the second edition contained at least one fictional entry. This later was determined to be the word esquivalience
"Esquivalience" is a fictitious entry in the New Oxford American Dictionary , which was designed and included to protect copyright of the publication....

, defined as "the wilful avoidance of one's official responsibilities," which had been added to the edition published in 2001. 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
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

 medical encyclopedia Pschyrembel Klinisches Wörterbuch features an entry on the Steinlaus (stone louse
Stone louse
The stone louse is a fictitious animal created by German humorist Loriot to parody nature documentaries...

), a rock-eating animal. The scientific name Petrophaga lorioti implies its origin: a creation of the German humorist Loriot
Vicco von Bülow
Bernhard Victor Christoph Carl von Bülow , more commonly known under the pseudonym Loriot, was a German comedian, humorist, cartoonist, film director, actor and writer.He is most well known for his cartoons, the sketches from his 1976 television series...

. The Pschyrembel entry was removed in 1996 but, after reader protests, was restored the next year, with an extended section on the role of the stone louse in the fall of the Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin...


Joel Whitburn
Joel Whitburn
Joel Carver Whitburn is an American author and music historian.Whitburn founded Record Research Inc. in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, in 1970, and put together a team of researchers to examine in detail all of Billboards music and video charts...

's pop chart research books say that Ralph Marterie
Ralph Marterie
Ralph Marterie was a big-band leader born in Acerra , Italy.In the 1940s, he played trumpet for various bands. His highest success in the U.S. charts was a cover of "Skokiaan" in 1954. In 1953 he recorded a version of Bill Haley's "Crazy, Man, Crazy", which is generally regarded as the first...

'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. A similar situation occurs in his compilation of Billboard's Rock charts, where Whitburn includes the fictitious song "Drag You Down" by the equally non-existent group The Cysterz.


Fictitious entries on maps may be called phantom settlements, trap streets, paper towns, or other names. They are intended to serve as traps for identifying copyright infringements.

In 1978, the fictional Ohio
Ohio is a Midwestern state in the United States. The 34th largest state by area in the U.S.,it is the 7th‑most populous with over 11.5 million residents, containing several major American cities and seven metropolitan areas with populations of 500,000 or more.The state's capital is Columbus...

 towns of Goblu and Beatosu
Goblu and Beatosu
Beatosu and Goblu are two non-existent Ohio towns that were inserted into the 1978–1979 official state of Michigan map. The names refer to the slogan of University of Michigan fans and a reference to their archrivals from the Ohio State University .Peter Fletcher, a U of M alumnus and chairman of...

 were inserted into that year's official state of Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

 map as nods to the University of Michigan
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan is a public research university located in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. It is the state's oldest university and the flagship campus of the University of Michigan...

 and its traditional rival, Ohio State University
Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, commonly referred to as Ohio State, is a public research university located in Columbus, Ohio. It was originally founded in 1870 as a land-grant university and is currently the third largest university campus in the United States...

. The doctored maps were withdrawn and now fetch up to $150 in mint condition.

The fictional town of Agloe, New York
Agloe, New York
Agloe, New York is a fictional place that became an actual landmark.In the 1930s, General Drafting Company founder Otto G. Lindberg and an assistant, Ernest Alpers, assigned an anagram of their initials to a dirt-road intersection in the Catskill Mountains: New York Route 206 and Morton Hill Road,...

 was invented by map makers, but eventually became identified as a real place by its county administration because a building, the Agloe General Store, was erected at its fictional location. The "town" is featured in the novel Paper Towns
Paper Towns
Paper Towns is the third young adult novel by John Green, published in October 2008 by Dutton Books. It debuted at number 5 on the New York Times bestseller list for children's books and was awarded the 2009 Edgar Award for best Young Adult novel....

by John Green. A character in the book has a dog named Myrna Mountweazel.

Mount Richard, a fictitious peak on the continental divide
Continental divide
A continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent such that the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side either feeds into a different ocean or sea, or else is endorheic, not connected to the open sea...

 in the United States, appeared on county maps in the early 1970s. It was believed to be the work of a draftsman, Richard Ciacci. The fiction was undiscovered for two years.

In the United Kingdom in 2001, the Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey
Ordnance Survey , an executive agency and non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom, is the national mapping agency for Great Britain, producing maps of Great Britain , and one of the world's largest producers of maps.The name reflects its creation together with...

 (OS) and the Automobile Association
The Automobile Association
The Automobile Association , a British motoring association founded in 1905 was demutualised in 1999 to become a private limited company which currently provides car insurance, driving lessons, breakdown cover, loans and motoring advice, and other services...

 (The AA), a British motoring association, reached an out-of-court settlement of £20m after deliberate "errors" placed on OS maps were reproduced on maps by the AA. A portion of this sum was to cover missed and future royalty payments.

Trivia books, etc.

The Trivia Encyclopedia
The Trivia Encyclopedia
The Trivia Encyclopedia was first released in the early 1970s. Written by Fred L. Worth, it was the author's own personal collection of trivia...

placed deliberately false answers for a limited number of quiz questions, for copy-trap purposes; this was tested when the makers of Trivial Pursuit
Trivial Pursuit
Trivial Pursuit is a board game in which progress is determined by a player's ability to answer general knowledge and popular culture questions. The game was created in 1979 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, by Canadian Chris Haney, a photo editor for Montreal's The Gazette and Scott Abbott, a sports...

 based some of their questions on the work.

The book The Golden Turkey Awards
The Golden Turkey Awards
The Golden Turkey Awards is a 1980 book by film critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry Medved.The book awards the fictional "Golden Turkey Awards" to films judged by the authors as poor in quality, and to directors and actors judged to have created a chronically inept body of work...

describes many bizarre and obscure films. The authors of the work state that one film described by the book is a complete hoax, and they challenge readers to spot the made-up film; the imaginary film was Dog of Norway, which supposedly starred "Muki the Wonder Dog", named for the authors' own dog.

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
Flag of California
The Bear Flag is the official flag of the state of California. The precursor of the flag was first flown during the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt and was also known as the Bear Flag.-Design:...

 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 to encourage the checking of references for claims that seem unreasonable; the acronym for "The Repository of Lost Legends" spells out troll
Troll (Internet)
In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking readers into an emotional response...

. Ironically, within another of the Urban Legends Reference Pages, there are two records of entities who have fallen for the trap, one being the TV show Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed
Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed
Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed is a docudrama about urban legends and re-enacting them and researching their credibility. It aired on The Learning Channel from 2002 until 2004. It ran for four seasons. Early episodes were hosted by Natasha Henstridge...

, and another on a trivia board game called Urban Myth.

In fiction

Fictitious entries are sometimes plot points in fiction, including:
  • A Fred Saberhagen
    Fred Saberhagen
    Fred Thomas Saberhagen was an American science fiction and fantasy author most famous for his Berserker series of science fiction short stories and S.F...

     science fiction
    Science fiction
    Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

     short story, "The Annihilation of Angkor Apeiron," in which an encyclopedia article for a star system was a fictitious entry included in the encyclopedia to detect plagiarism, which caused a ship to end up in an empty star system where it ran out of fuel and ceased to be a threat to humanity.
  • Jorge Louis Borges's Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
    Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
    "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is a short story by the 20th century Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The story was first published in the Argentine journal Sur, May 1940. The "postscript" dated 1947 is intended to be anachronistic, set seven years in the future...

    tells of an encyclopedia entry on what turns out to be the imaginary country of Uqbar. This leads the narrator to the equally fantastic region of Tlon, the setting for much of the country's literature.


Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n archaeologist
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery
Timothy Fridtjof Flannery is an Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist, environmentalist and global warming activist....

's book, Astonishing Animals, written in collaboration with painter
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color or other medium to a surface . The application of the medium is commonly applied to the base with a brush but other objects can be used. In art, the term painting describes both the act and the result of the action. However, painting is...

 Peter Schouten, describes some of the more outlandish animals alive on Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. 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.

The Rhinogradentia are a fictitious mammal order documented by the equally fictitious German naturalist Harald Stümpke...

 are an entirely fictitious mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

ian order
Order (biology)
In scientific classification used in biology, the order is# a taxonomic rank used in the classification of organisms. Other well-known ranks are life, domain, kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, and species, with order fitting in between class and family...

, extensively documented in a series of articles and books by the equally fictitious German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 naturalist Harald Stümpke. Allegedly, both the animals and the scientist were the creations of Gerolf Steiner
Gerolf Steiner
Gerolf Steiner was a German zoologist.He was born on March 23, 1908 in Strasbourg, and occupied the chair of zoology at the University of Karlsruhe from 1962 to 1973. He is famous worldwide for a little book on the anatomy and habits of the Rhinogradentia, a fictitious order of mammals whose nose...

, a zoology
Zoology |zoölogy]]), is the branch of biology that relates to the animal kingdom, including the structure, embryology, evolution, classification, habits, and distribution of all animals, both living and extinct...

 professor at the University of Heidelberg.

Each issue of the product catalogue for Swedish consumer electronics and hobby articles retailer Teknikmagasinet
Teknikmagasinet AB is a Swedish-based retail company which sells consumer electronics and gadgets. Founded in 1990, the company operates stores in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Since January 2004 the company has been controlled by venture capital group 3i Group, which holds a 45% stake, and chairman...

 contains a fictitious product. Finding that product is a contest, "Blufftävlingen", in which the best suggestion for another fictitious product from someone who spotted the product gets included in the next issue.

Muse (magazine)
Muse is a children's magazine published by the Smithsonian Institution and Carus Publishing, the publishers of Cricket. Launched in October 1996, it is published in Chicago, Illinois, and has readers throughout the United States and around the world. Recommended for ages ten and above, it features...

(a magazine for children 10–14, published in the USA) regularly includes a two-page spread containing science and technology news. One of the news stories is false and readers are encouraged to guess which one.

See also

  • April Fools Day
  • Canary trap
    Canary trap
    A canary trap is a method for exposing an information leak, which involves giving different versions of a sensitive document to each of several suspects and seeing which version gets leaked....

  • Culture jamming
    Culture jamming
    Culture jamming, coined in 1984, denotes a tactic used by many anti-consumerist social movements to disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions, including corporate advertising. Guerrilla semiotics and night discourse are sometimes used synonymously with the term culture jamming.Culture...

  • Easter egg (media)
    Easter egg (media)
    Image:Carl Oswald Rostosky - Zwei Kaninchen und ein Igel 1861.jpg|250px|thumb|right|Example of Easter egg hidden within imagerect 467 383 539 434 desc none...

  • False document
    False document
    A false document is a literary technique employed to create verisimilitude in a work of fiction. By inventing and inserting documents that appear to be factual, an author tries to create a sense of authenticity beyond the normal and expected suspension of disbelief for a work of art...

  • Honeypot (computing)
    Honeypot (computing)
    In computer terminology, a honeypot is a trap set to detect, deflect, or in some manner counteract attempts at unauthorized use of information systems...

  • Salt (cryptography)
    Salt (cryptography)
    In cryptography, a salt consists of random bits, creating one of the inputs to a one-way function. The other input is usually a password or passphrase. The output of the one-way function can be stored rather than the password, and still be used for authenticating users. The one-way function...

  • Wikipedia:List of hoaxes on Wikipedia

Further reading

The literature about fake
Fake means not real.Fake may also refer to:In music:* Fake , a Swedish synthpop band active in the 1980s*Fake?, a Japanese rock band* Fake , 2010 song by Ai featuring Namie Amuro...

s, parody
A parody , in current usage, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on, or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation...

, travesty
Burlesque is a literary, dramatic or musical work intended to cause laughter by caricaturing the manner or spirit of serious works, or by ludicrous treatment of their subjects...

, and pastiche
A pastiche is a literary or other artistic genre or technique that is a "hodge-podge" or imitation. The word is also a linguistic term used to describe an early stage in the development of a pidgin language.-Hodge-podge:...

 barely touches upon the phenomenon of 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
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

  • 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

External links