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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Literature/Language
How an 18th Century hoax is relevant to Scottish Independence — 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).
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014.   Comments (1)

The Man Who Counted — 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,… Continue…
Posted: Wed May 07, 2014.   Comments (2)

Happy Birthday, Robinson Crusoe — 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."
Posted: Fri Apr 25, 2014.   Comments (0)

The Confused English-Language Student — 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
Posted: Sat Dec 28, 2013.   
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Fake Sign Language Guy — 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…
Posted: Thu Dec 12, 2013.   Comments (0)

Fake Einstein Quotation Paperweight — 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…
Posted: Fri Nov 15, 2013.   Comments (1)

Myth: 30,000 new words have been added to Polish since 1945 — 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…
Posted: Tue Nov 05, 2013.   Comments (2)

Cypriots who said hello by saying goodbye — 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…
Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2013.   Comments (1)

Collage Poetry — 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'…
Posted: Fri Sep 13, 2013.   Comments (1)

If you say gullible slowly, it sounds like oranges — A fairly old meme, but it was new to me. Image via theburlapbag.com.
Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2013.   Comments (3)

What’s Your Title? — 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…
Posted: Mon Aug 19, 2013.   Comments (2)

Did Gerard de Nerval walk his pet lobster through Paris? — 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…
Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2013.   Comments (1)

New article about I, Libertine hoax — 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…
Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2013.   Comments (0)

Johan Lehrer tries to understand himself — 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…
Posted: Wed Feb 13, 2013.   Comments (0)

Romance author Jessica Blair is really elderly grandfather Bill Spence — 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…
Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2013.   Comments (1)

The Diamond Club—an erotic literary experiment — Justin Young and Brian Bushwood, of the NSFWshow podcast, were intrigued by the success of the erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. They were particularly impressed with how many books were selling well for no other reason, apparently, than that they looked Fifty Shades of Grey. So they decided to conduct an experiment — to find out whether an ebook could succeed simply by resembling Fifty Shades of Grey. They came up with a title for their novel,
Posted: Fri Aug 10, 2012.   Comments (1)

The Origin of the Word Quiz — 'Quiz' is a relatively new word. It first came into use in the late 1700s, making it a little over 250 years old, and there's a curious story about how it came into being. The tale goes that it emerged from a wager made in 1791 by Richard Daly, manager of the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Daly bet his friends that within 48 hours he could make a nonsense word be spoken throughout Dublin — specifically, a word having no meaning nor derived from any known language. His friends took him up on…
Posted: Tue Jul 10, 2012.   Comments (0)

Did Edgar Allan Poe say, “The best things in life make you sweaty”? — Brief Answer: No! Longer Answer: If you do a search for the phrase, "The best things in life make you sweaty," you'll find quite a few sites (facebook and tumblr pages especially) attributing this quotation to Edgar Allan Poe. There's even a short article at the Richmond County Daily Journal which uses this supposed Poe quotation as its lead. Of course, Poe never said this. Nor was it the kind of thing he would have said. I doubt Poe was a big fan of sweating. His greatest passions…
Posted: Tue Jun 12, 2012.   Comments (5)

Naked Came the Stranger: the x-rated movie — As I noted in my previous post, Mike McGrady, creator of the 1969 "Naked Came the Stranger" literary hoax, died recently. A little-known footnote to this hoax is that it inspired an x-rated movie in 1975. Here's the trailer for that movie. (It's pretty much safe for work.)
Posted: Thu May 17, 2012.   Comments (0)

RIP Mike McGrady — Mike McGrady was the mastermind behind the Naked Came the Stranger hoax of 1969. His aim was to show that any book with enough sex scenes, even if lacking in any other merit, could sell well. And the book he created to prove this point did sell well. Although its sales had a lot to do with the fact that McGrady's sister-in-law, the attractive Penelope Ashe, posed as its author. Which shows that the good looks of an author can definitely sell books. And, of course, the book sold even…
Posted: Thu May 17, 2012.   Comments (0)

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