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 In This Video
The New Columbia Encyclopedia of 1975 contained a fake entry about Lillian Virginia Mountweasel, which was meant to ensnare would-be plagiarizers. (0:47)
Fake reference entries are now called "Mountweazels," even though they actually predate the New Columbia Encyclopedia entry. (1:20)
Cartographers have paper towns, paper streets, and trap streets for the same reason. (2:16)