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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Literature/Language
How an 18th Century hoax is relevant to Scottish Independence
Posted by The Curator on Mon Sep 15, 2014
North Country Public Radio blogger Brian Mann asks, "Is fight for Scottish independence based on a literary hoax?" He concedes that if Scotland does decide for independence, there will be "many causes, many inspirations." But he notes that Scottish cultural nationalism first got a big push back in the 18th Century when James Macpherson published his Ossian poems, claiming they were a translation of epic poems written by an ancient Scottish bard. The poems gave Scots a sense of pride in having a great cultural heritage. But the truth was that Macpherson had mostly written the poems himself. (Which, in itself, was an impressive achievement, although much of the appeal of the poems lay in the idea that they were ancient).
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (0)
The Man Who Counted
Posted by The Curator on Wed May 07, 2014
May 6 was the National Day of Mathematics in Brazil. This day was chosen because it was the birthday of Julio Cesar de Mello e Souza, a maths teacher from Rio de Janeiro, who was also the author of Brazil's most famous literary hoax, O Homem que Calculava (The Man Who Counted), which is also one of the most successful books ever written in Brazil. It's a hoax because when the book was first published in 1932, it was said to be the work of an Arabian author, Malba Tahan. Melle e Souza created Tahan because he realized that it was easier to get published in Brazil, during the 1930s, if…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (2)
Happy Birthday, Robinson Crusoe
Posted by The Curator on Fri Apr 25, 2014
Today is the 295th anniversary of the publication of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. But as Rebekah Higgitt (writing for The Guardian) points out, the earliest editions of the book claimed that Robinson Crusoe himself, not Defoe, was its author. Also, there was nothing to indicate the book was fiction. In other words, the book was a literary hoax. More specifically, it was "a satire on travel narratives and other texts attempting to present reliable knowledge."
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (0)
The Confused English-Language Student
Posted by The Curator on Sat Dec 28, 2013
The Borneo Post offers a Malay urban legend about a confused English-language student who bumps into an English speaker (identifiable as a "white man") at the airport and says, "I'm sorry." The English speaker replies, "I'm sorry too." The learner replies, "I'm sorry three." "What for?" "I'm sorry five" The English speaker: "I'm sick of this," and starts to leave. The learner: "I'm sorry seven." ‘I’m sorry three, five, seven’ tickles delegates during debate on economy Borneo Post KUALA LUMPUR: An anecdote from a Malay student trying to master the English language while preparing to…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (0)
Fake Sign Language Guy
Posted by The Curator on Thu Dec 12, 2013
It doesn't seem that the 'fake sign language guy' (Thamsanqa Jantjie) at Mandela's memorial service was a prankster, as some speculated. Instead, it looks like he was a poorly qualified guy who cracked under the pressure and started signing nonsense. Or perhaps he was communicating with extraterrestrials. From the BBC: the man's signing seemed to have no grammatical base and kept repeating sign patterns when it was clear that the speaker was not using repetitive words. UK deaf news blog The Limping Chicken said the sign language interpreter had a "strange repetitive rhythm to his movements", and "the structure of his hand and body movements…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (0)
Fake Einstein Quotation Paperweight
Posted by The Curator on Fri Nov 15, 2013
I recently received an "Uncommon Goods" catalog in the mail and noticed an item they call the "Imagination Paperweight." It displays an inspiring Albert Einstein quotation: "Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere." Knowing how many fake Einstein quotations there are floating around, my suspicion was aroused. So I checked and sure enough, this Einstein quotation has been called into question by the few people who have bothered to investigate it (as opposed to mindlessly parroting it). The Skeptica Esoterica blog notes that it's listed in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein (2010) by Alice Calaprice, but it's in the "Probably Not…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (1)
Myth: 30,000 new words have been added to Polish since 1945
Posted by The Curator on Tue Nov 05, 2013
From the most recent issue of the International Journal of Lexicography: one can find highly interesting cases of the 'Eskimo hoax' type in accounts of the history of Polish vocabulary, the one most often found being the statement that there are 30,000 'new words' (and one million technical terms) in Polish that appeared after 1945. This claim is not based on adequate empirical data. Piotr Wierzchon discusses the hoax on pages 178-183 of the book under review [Depozytorium leksykalne jezyka polskiego. Nowe fotomaterialy z lat 1901-2010.] Unfortunately I don't have access to the book being reviewed. Nor do I know Polish, so I couldn't read it even if I did. So that's all…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (2)
Cypriots who said hello by saying goodbye
Posted by The Curator on Tue Oct 08, 2013
A brief news-wire story that ran in many American papers in late 1940 claimed that due to an error in an English-Greek language book, the people of Cyprus thought that 'Goodbye' was the word used to say 'Hello' in English. Which must have caused some confusion to English-speaking tourists on the island. Here's the story as it appeared in the Milwaukee Journal - Dec 17, 1940: Since no source was offered for this claim, and I can't find any other documentation of such a mixup, I have a hard time believing it was true. Surely any English teacher would have known enough to catch such an error, and wouldn't…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (1)
Collage Poetry
Posted by The Curator on Fri Sep 13, 2013
Prize-winning Australian poet Andrew Slattery (winner, most recently, of the Cardiff International Poetry Competition, that came with a jackpot of £5000) is being stripped of many of his prizes after judges discovered that most of his poetry consists of lines lifted from the works of other poets. For instance, his poem Ransom, which won him the Josephine Ulrick Poetry Prize (and potentially $10,000 — he hadn't received the money yet) was a stitched-together version of "50-odd poets' work, some of them famous, such as Americans Charles Simic and Robert Bly, and one Australian, Chris Andrews." Slattery now explains that he intended his poems to be a form of "collage poetry" written in the "cento format." Apparently this…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (1)
If you say gullible slowly, it sounds like oranges
Posted by The Curator on Wed Aug 28, 2013
A fairly old meme, but it was new to me. Image via theburlapbag.com.
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (3)
What’s Your Title?
Posted by The Curator on Mon Aug 19, 2013
The New York Department of State recently ruled that it's illegal to use corporate honorifics if you're not actually part of a corporation. Sounds logical, unless you're a real estate agent. Because it's long been the practice for real estate agents to use fancy titles like "Senior Executive Vice President" or "Managing Director," even though technically they work as independent contractors for firms. They're not on the staff. Now all their business cards have to go in the shredder, or they face a fine of $1000 per violation. Naturally, they're not taking this change lying down. Instead, they're busy inventing new titles for themselves, such as Nikki Field who now calls herself a "Senior Global Real Estate…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (2)
Did Gerard de Nerval walk his pet lobster through Paris?
Posted by The Curator on Mon Feb 25, 2013
Legend has it that the 19th-century French Romantic poet Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855) had a pet lobster named Thibault that he took on walks in the Palais Royal gardens of Paris, using a blue silk ribbon as a leash. When asked why he did this, he replied Why should a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog? Or a cat, or a gazelle, or a lion, or any other animal that one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters. They are peaceful, serious creatures. They know the secrets of the sea, they don't bark, and they don't gobble up your monadic privacy like dogs do. And Goethe had an…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (1)
New article about I, Libertine hoax
Posted by The Curator on Sat Feb 16, 2013
Matthew Callan has written a great account of Jean Shepherd's 1956 I, Libertine hoax: The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of "I, Libertine" theawl.com Shepherd inspired fierce loyalty in his listeners who would tune in to listen to him in the middle of the night. These listeners embraced his term for them, "night people," and under his direction they would execute one of the biggest and most bizarre media hoaxes of the 20th century. The hoax was meant as a strike against their opposite: "day people," that is, against phoniness and squareness—all those 50s words—as well as a joke on New York pretension. In our time of memes, virality, and…
Categories: Literature/Language Comments (0)
Johan Lehrer tries to understand himself
Posted by The Curator on Wed Feb 13, 2013
In July 2012, science writer Jonah Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker under a cloud of shame, after it was revealed that his latest book, Imagine, was full of fabricated quotations. Yesterday, he took what he may have been hoping was a first step toward rehabilitating his public image by giving a confessional talk at a Knight Foundation seminar in Miami. If image-rehabilitation was his goal, it probably didn't work, because most of the coverage of his talk was snarky and cynical about his intents, especially after poynter.org reported that he was paid $20,000 for speaking. As Lehrer spoke, a giant screen behind him showed real-time tweets about the talk,…
I actually find it more surprising that he's still cranking out books at the age of 89 than that he's using a female pen name. Good for him! It's inspiring! Bills and boon! 'Female' romance author Jessica Blair unmasked as 89-year-old grandfather Daily Mail The grandfather from Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, was told his books would need to be printed under a feminine moniker if he wanted them to sell - and so his pseudonym Jessica Blair was born. Bill, 89, has so far written 22 romance novels under the female pen name since his first was published in 1993, with his latest, Silence of the Snow, due out this week.
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