A whole different kind of dictionary attack

By on August 28, 2005

According to The New Yorker, dictionaries and encyclopedias include false entries to help fight plagiarism. If you see another dictionary with the same fake entry as yours, you know they stole your work. Sort of like a digital watermark, only with words.

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.”

Someone found out that the New Oxford American Dictionary’s honeypot word started with ‘e’, they sorted through the ‘e’s and got them to fess up. Pretty interesting.

Like most Gadgetopia posts, this one is evidence of my frequent esquivalience.

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Comments

  1. You see this with maps too, since a street map is a perfect for plagarizing. A lot of street maps with have a “fake” cul-de-sac somewhere which the publishers look for on other maps.

  2. Ok, but this is crazy. This word doesn’t really exist, but a google search reveals 8 elicits 8 pages of results, nearly all of them blogs that point back to the New Yorker article, which is just one week old.

    Fake new travels fast, I guess.

  3. PLS. MAKE UR RESEARCHES MORE INTERESTING!THE MOST USELESS WEBSITE IN THE WORLD IS THIS WEBSITE! WE HATE U!!!

  4. PLS. MAKE UR RESEARCHES MORE INTERESTING!THE MOST USELESS WEBSITE IN THE WORLD IS THIS WEBSITE! WE HATE U!!!

    That is the greatest comment that has ever been posted to Gadgetopia. Ever.

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