Monday, May 10, 2010

Pop! Goes the Mountweazel

Have you run across any Mountweazels lately?  The chances are you wouldn’t know it if you did.  The word was coined by Henry Alford in a 2005 “Talk of the Town” item in The New Yorker, and it is defined as an erroneous item of information purposely inserted into a reference work in order to detect plagiarism.  Such phony listings are also known as “copyright traps” and “Nihilartikels.”

The term Mountweazel stems from a spurious listing in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia for one Lillian Virginia Mountweazel.  According to this bogus biography, she was born in 1942 in Bangs, Ohio (which is an actual town) and pursued a career as a fountain designer and then as a photographer, most famous for her photos of New York City buses, Parisian cemeteries, and American rural mailboxes.  She died in 1973 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou, whose biography, like himself, is completely bogus, mused as follows:

            Crowed Ms. Mountweazel
            To Lady Teazle:
            “My dear, I’m in the media.
            Just a gal from Ohio,
            But you’ll find my bio
            In the Columbia Encyclopedia!”

            Sniffed Lady T.:
            “What’s that to me?
            You’re a phony and a harridan!
            On the other hand—I 
            Was created by
            Sir Richard Brinsley Sheridan!”

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