How Publications Use Mountweazels to Foil Plagiarizers

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How Publications Use Mountweazels to Foil Plagiarizers

In the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia, there's an entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a fountain designer who was later celebrated for photographs she took of rural American mailboxes in a collection entitled "Flags Up!" She unfortunately died "at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine." If it sounds a little ridiculous, that's because the encyclopedia editors made it up. They did so to better identify plagiarism of their work, which is usually hard to do when dealing with plain facts. If Ms. Mountweazel showed up in any other encyclopedias, they'd know that it was copied. Publications ranging from reference texts such as encyclopedias and dictionaries to online resources such as Snopes.com and Google use fake additions, sometimes referred to as Mountweazels, to protect their copyright. The second edition New Oxford American Dictionary includes the fake word "esquivalence," and Agloe, New York was a so-called "paper town" made up by mapmakers, though it later became a real town. Even Trivial Pursuit was caught republishing a Mountweazel when a 1984 version of their game said Columbo's first name was Philip -- a false fact published in Fred L. Worth's series of trivia encyclopedias in the 1970s. We've collected some awesome videos on this topic. Watch them now to learn more.

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Key Facts to Know

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    The New Columbia Encyclopedia of 1975 contained a fake entry about Lillian Virginia Mountweasel, which was meant to ensnare would-be plagiarizers. 0:47

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    Fake reference entries are now called "Mountweazels," even though they actually predate the New Columbia Encyclopedia entry. 1:20

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    Cartographers have paper towns, paper streets, and trap streets for the same reason. 2:16

Ernest Vincent Wright's Novel With No "E"

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Ernest Vincent Wright's Novel With No "E"

The 1939 novel "Gadsby" written by Ernest Vincent Wright is a 50,000-word book that does not contain the letter "e" at all. The book is a "lipogram" a work where the author purposefully excludes a letter from their text. Wright actually disabled the "e" key on his typewriter to help him avoid using the letter while writing the novel. It took Wright just under six months to complete the book. Unfortunately, Wright died just two months after publishing the book.

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Key Facts to Know

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    Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,000-word novel that does not contain the letter "e." 0:04

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    To avoid the letter "e," Ernest Vincent Wright described a turkey instead as a "Thanksgiving national bird." 1:03

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    Ernest Vincent Wright died just two months after publishing "Gadsby." 3:09

The Literary Life of Charles Dickens

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The Literary Life of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens, well known for writing "A Christmas Carol" and "Oliver Twist," was born on February 7, 1812.

Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

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Arthur Miller's "The Crucible"

Playwright and essayist Arthur Miller was born October 17, 1915. Miller's personal life was under public scrutiny after events like his marriage to Marilyn Monroe and his defiance of McCarthyism. Learn more about one of Miller's most famous works, "The Crucible."

Life Of Author Truman Capote

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Life Of Author Truman Capote

Truman Capote was born September 30, 1924. Best known for writing "In Cold Blood" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Capote became one the most famous and controversial figures in contemporary American literature.