The Museum of Hoaxes
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Linguistic Hoaxes
Grunge Speak, 1992
On November 15, 1992 the New York Times published an article analyzing the roots and evolution of the "grunge" movement. It reported that Grungers had developed their own lexicon of "grunge speak" which included phrases such as Cob Nobbler (a loser), Lamestain (an uncool person), and Wack Slacks (old, ripped jeans). Three months later, The Baffler magazine revealed that the Times had been the victim of a hoax. The grunge terms didn't exist. Megan Jasper of Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, whom the Times had used as its source for the glossary, had simply invented the terms as a joke. More…
The Miscegenation Hoax, 1863
A pamphlet titled Miscegenation: The Theory of the Blending of the Races went on sale arguing for the benefits of white and black people having children with each other. By modern standards, the suggestion sounds enlightened, but the pamphlet was actually a hoax designed to insert the inflammatory issue of race into the 1864 presidential election. The hoax fizzled, but the pamphlet did introduce the word 'miscegenation' into the English language. More…
The Walam Olum of Constantine Rafinesque, 1836
The naturalist Rafinesque produced a document that he claimed was an ancient text written on birch bark by early Lenape (Delaware) indians that he had been able to translate into English. Long accepted as authentic, it was exposed as a fraud, by linguistic analysis, in 1996. Rafinesque had translated the text from English into Lenape, rather than the other way around. More…
The Dutch Mail, 1792
According to legend, the editor of the Leicester Herald was pressed for time one day and couldn't complete a column. So he threw together a scramble of meaningless letters and headlined it as the latest "Dutch Mail." The editor later reported meeting a man who had kept the "Dutch Mail" edition of the Herald for thirty-four years, hoping to one day get it translated. More…
The Native of Formosa, 1702
A white-skinned, blond-haired man showed up in northern Europe claiming to be from the island of Formosa (Taiwan). He regaled scholars and members of high society with tales of the bizarre practices of Formosa, such as the supposed annual sacrifice of 20,000 young boys to the gods. Luckily for him, no one in Europe knew what a Taiwanese person should look like, which allowed him to keep up his masquerade for four years before finally being exposed. More…
The Voynich Manuscript, c.1500
The Voynich manuscript is a mysterious book consisting of pages of hand-written text and crudely drawn illustrations that depict plants, astrological diagrams, and naked women. The text has defied all attempts at translation. One theory is that the book's text was simply nonsense gibberish that an alchemist used to impress clients. But no one knows for sure what the book's purpose was. More…
Hoax Archive Categories
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s

All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.