Fictitious or fake entries are deliberately incorrect entries in reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedias (including Wikipedia), maps, and directories. There are more specific terms for particular kinds of fictitious entry, such as Mountweazel, trap street, paper town, phantom settlement, and nihilartikel.
The term nihilartikel, combining the Latin nihil ("nothing") and German Artikel ("article"), is sometimes used.
By including a trivial piece of false information in a larger work, it is easier to demonstrate subsequent
Fictitious entries may be used to demonstrate copying, but to prove legal infringement, the material must also be shown to be eligible for copyright (see
Most listings of the members of the
Fictitious entries in reference publications often occur in an attempt to catch plagiarism, such as:
- In August 2005, esquivalience", 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.
- David Pogue, author of several books offering tips and tricks for computer users, deliberately placed a bogus tip in one of his books as a way of catching competing writers who were re-publishing information from his works without permission. The fake tip, which purported to make a rabbit appear on the computer screen when certain keys were pressed, did indeed appear in other books shortly after Pogue published it.
- In addition to the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia's entry on Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, the editors created another fictitious entry on the blind American artist, Robert Dayton. The article claims Dayton experimented “with odor-emitting gases that resemble pungent body odors." His supposed work, known as "Aroma-Art", is presented in a sealed chamber where an audience inhales scented air.
- The Loriot. 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.
- Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language once contained an entry for fictitious bird jungftak: Russell, Thomas H.; Bean, A. C.; Vaugh, L. D., eds. (1943). Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.).
jungftak, n. Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.
Fictitious entries on maps may be called
- In 1978, the fictional American towns of Beatosu and Goblu in Ohio were inserted into that year's official state of Michigan map as nods to the University of Michigan and its traditional rival, The Ohio State University.
- The fictional American town of Agloe, New York, 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 by John Green and its film adaptation.
- Mount Richard, a fictitious peak on the continental divide 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 nonexistence of the mountain was undiscovered for two years.
- In the United Kingdom in 2001, the
- The 2002 Geographers A-Z Map of Manchester contains traps. For example, Dickinson Street in central Manchester is falsely named "Philpott St".
- The fictitious English town of Argleton was investigated by Steve Punt in an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme Punt P.I. The programme concluded that the town's entry may well have originated as a copyright trap.
They are not to be confused with paper streets, which are streets which are planned but as of the printing of the map have not yet been built.
- Fred L. Worth, the author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, placed deliberately false information about the first name of TV detective Columbo for copy-trap purposes. He later sued the creators of Trivial Pursuit, as they had based some of their questions and answers on entries found in the work. The suit was unsuccessful, as the makers of Trivial Pursuit were able to show that the game was based on questions and answers about facts obtained from a number of sources, and the information was laid out in a way that was demonstrably different from the original "encyclopedia".
Other copyright infringement
Other examples of copyright infringement that do not fall under the above categories include:
- In the summer of 2008, the state-owned Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute (Slovak: Slovenský hydrometeorologický ústav, short: SHMÚ) became suspicious that a competing commercial service, the website meteo.sk, was copying their data. (This is generally legal in most countries, where such data is either offered under a free license or deeded into the public domain, but not in Slovakia.) On 7 August 2008, SHMÚ deliberately altered the temperature for Chopok from 9.5 °C to 1 °C. In a short time, the temperature of 1 °C appeared for Chopok at meteo.sk as well.
- The ANP in the Netherlands once deliberately included a false story about a fire in their radio newscast to see if Radio Veronica took its news from the ANP. Several hours later, Radio Veronica also aired the story.
- In 2019, media company Genius revealed that they had caught Google reprinting their song lyrics as "Featured Snippets" on top of Google search result pages. Genius used a mix of two different types of apostrophes (curly and straight) in several of their song lyrics. When converted to Morse Code, these apostrophes spelled out the phrase "Red Handed".
Some publications such as those published by
In 1985, the fictitious town of Ripton, Massachusetts, was "created" in an effort to protest the ignorance of state officials about rural areas. The town received a budget appropriation and several grants before the hoax was revealed.
Fictitious entries often occur in reference publications as a prank, or practical joke, in an attempt to be humorous, such as:
- The association football.
- Zzxjoanw 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 described as a Māori word for a drum. Later, it was proved to be a hoax (having seemed suspect because Māori does not use the letters J, X or Z).
- 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. 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, Ireland, in March 2009 examining her fictitious life and works.
- The first printing in 1980 of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 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. 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.
Fictitious entries occasionally feature in other publications in an attempt to be humorous, such as:
- University of Heidelberg.
- 1974 NHL amateur draft; Imlach drafted Tsujimoto and only months later—well after the pick was made official—admitted that the league had been fooled by the fictitious player.
- Martin Martyas an ongoing in-joke among theologians, including a book and a parody lecture series at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
- At least two Georgia Tech have long included George P. Burdell, a fictitious student originally created as a practical joke by a Tech student in 1927, in their lists of lettermenin team media guides:
Puzzles and games
Many publications have included false items and then challenged readers to identify them, including:
- palaeontologist Tim Flannery's book Astonishing Animals includes one imaginary animal and leaves it up to the reader to distinguish which one it is.
- The product catalogue for Swedish personal-use electronics and hobby articles retailer Teknikmagasinet 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, a US magazine for children 10–14, 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.
- Games(a magazine devoted to games and puzzles) used to include a fake advertisement in each issue as one of the magazine's regular games.
- 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 they challenge readers to spot the made-up film; the imaginary film was Dog of Norway, which supposedly starred "Muki the Wonder Dog", named after the authors' own dog. (A clue is that the same dog shown in a supposed publicity shot for the 1948 film, is also seen beside the authors in the "About The Authors" bio on the back cover.)
Fictitious entries in fiction
Fictitious entries are sometimes plot points in fiction, including:
- A Berserkership to end up in an empty star system where it runs out of fuel and ceases to be a threat to humanity.
- Jorge Luis Borges's short story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" 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 Tlön, the setting for much of the country's literature. Borges went on to invent the Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, purportedly an ancient Chinese encyclopedia, two years later.
- The fictitious entry
- In Eley Williams's novel The Liar's Dictionary (2020), the protagonist is tasked with hunting down several fictitious entries inserted in Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary before the work is digitized.
- In the Inside No. 9 episode "Misdirection", Mountweazel is used to prove the plagiarism of a magic trick.
- In the Doctor Who episode "Face the Raven", a hidden community lives in a London alley. Clara Oswald helps the Doctor start the search for that community by searching for any trap streets within the London city limits.
Fictitious entries may be used to demonstrate copying, but to prove legal infringement, the material must also be shown to be eligible for copyright. However, due to the
- Fred L. Worth, author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, filed a $300 million lawsuit against the distributors of Trivial Pursuit. He claimed that more than a quarter of the questions in the game's Genus Edition had been taken from his books, even his own fictitious entries that he had added to the books to catch anyone who wanted to violate his copyright. However, the case was thrown out by the district court judge as the Trivial Pursuit inventors argued that facts are not protected by copyright.
- In Nester's Map & Guide Corp. v. Hagstrom Map Co.,enjoined Hagstrom from copying that portion of the guide. However, the court also found that fictitious entries (in this case, a "trap street") are not themselves protected by copyright.
- In Alexandria Drafting Co. v. Andrew H. Amsterdam dba Franklin Maps, Alexandria Drafting Corporation filed suit against Franklin Maps alleging that Franklin Maps had violated the Copyright Act of 1976 by copying their map books. However, this case was dismissed although the judge cited that there was a single instance of original copyright, but this was not sufficient evidence to support copyright infringement. Additionally, the judge cited Nester's Map & Guide Corp. v. Hagstrom Map Co. as previous case law to support that "fictitious names may not be copyrighted" and "the existence, or non-existence, of a road is a non-copyrightable fact."
- In one particular case, in 2001
Often there will be errors in maps, dictionaries, and other publications, that are not deliberate and thus are not fictitious entries. For example, within dictionaries there are such mistakes known as
- Canary trap
- Digital watermarking
- False document
- Honeypot (computing)
- List of hoaxes
- Sting operation
- Lexicographic error
Fictitious entries on Wikipedia
- Wikipedia April Fools festivities
- Guidelines concerning hoax articles
- "Nihilartikel". World Wide Words. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- Henry Alford, "Not a Word", The New Yorker August 29, 2005 (accessed August 29, 2013).
- Garner, Dwight, "In ‘The Liar’s Dictionary,’ People Work on the Definition of Love and Many Other Words", New York Times, January 5, 2021. Review of The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams (Doubleday). Retrieved 2021-01-07.
- L. J. Comrie, Chambers's Shorter Six-Figure Mathematical Tables, Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers, 1964, p. vi.
- 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.
- "The phantom of the Bundestag". The Economist. December 10, 2014.
- "Repair Radio Episode 4: Interview with David Pogue and Amanda LaGrange - YouTube". www.youtube.com. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
- "'Glitch of the Pentagon': There's a reason you might not have heard of this monster". Washington Post. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
- The word: Copyright trap New Scientist October 21, 2006
- Williams, Eleanor (2016). "Chapter 3: Flights of Fancy and Unhinged Birds: Fictitious Entries as Nonsense Literature" (PDF). Unclear Definitions: Investigating Dictionaries' Fictitious Entries through Creative and Critical Writing (PhD). Royal Holloway, University of London.
- SA Mathieson, "A sidestep in the right direction", The Guardian, May 11, 2006.
- "The Fake Places That Only Exist to Catch Copycat Mapmakers". Gizmodo. April 3, 2015. Retrieved January 11, 2021.
- "Centrica and Ordnance Survey settle AA copyright case", March 5, 2001.
- Andrew Clark (March 6, 2001). "Copying maps costs AA £20m". The Guardian. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- Punt PI, BBC Radio 4, September 18, 2010
- Worth v. Selchow & Righter Company, 827 F.2d 596 (9th Cir. 1987).
- SHMÚ suspicious that meteo.sk is stealing their data News portal SME.sk (in Slovak)
- Pogue, Glenn (February 2, 2011). "On Google's Bing Sting". The New York Times.
- "Bing Copying Google? Bing Accused Of Stealing Search Results". The Age. Australia. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- ""Hiybbprqag?" How Google Tripped Up Microsoft — Tech Talk". CBS News. February 2, 2011. Archived from the original on February 4, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- Kreps, Daniel (June 16, 2019). "Genius Claims Google Stole Lyrics Embedded With Secret Morse Code". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
- "Funistrada, the Army's 'Ghost Food' - Entropic Memes". www.slugsite.com.
- Woodward, Meredith (1985), "Ripton, Mass. - A Real Nowhere Town", Boston Globe, Boston, MA (published July 16, 1985)
- "The Life and Times of Lillian Virginia Mountweazel" Archived October 14, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, Aidan Dunne, The Irish Times, March 20, 2009. Retrieved March 27 2009 (subscription may be required or content may be available in libraries)
- See, e.g., "All-Time Letterwinners" (PDF). Georgia Tech Football 2016 Media Guide. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. p. 136. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
- See, e.g., "Tech Letterwinners" (PDF). Georgia Tech Basketball 2016–2017 Information Guide. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. p. 82. Retrieved March 24, 2017.
- "Teknikmagasinet – meningen med livet" [Meaning of life] (in Swedish). Teknik magasinet. Archived from the original on April 3, 2008. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
- "The Courier - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
- The "Philip Columbo" story" Ultimate Columbo Site (Accessed March 7, 2006)
- "Nester's Map & Guide Corp. v. Hagstrom Map Co., 796 F. Supp. 729 (E.D.N.Y. 1992)". Justia Law. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
- W. W. Skeat, The Transactions of the Philological Society 1885-7 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1885-7) Vol. II, p.351.
- Michael Quinion: "Kelemenopy", World Wide Words (Accessed September 25, 2005)
- The word: Copyright trap (New Scientist – requires subscription for full article)