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The Hoax Museum Blog
Category: Literature/Language
The Betjeman Letter — British papers have been reporting details of a literary hoax. The characters involved aren't that well known (at least to me), but the punchline is kind of amusing. Two years ago A.N. Wilson, biographer of poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, found a love letter written by the poet. Or, at least, he thought he had. Turns out the letter must have been deliberately planted to embarrass him because a journalist found a coded message inside of it. The Guardian reports: The telltale sign that…
Posted: Thu Aug 31, 2006.   Comments (6)

Alex Boese Quotes — Much to my surprise, I came across this page of "Alex Boese Quotes" on thinkexist.com. I was kind of flattered to find it, even though I'm sure the page was created by a computer trawling newspaper articles, and despite the fact that the three quotes (which I do recognize, and which I did say) are completely unmemorable. I think I've said some better things in my life. For instance, the first sentence of Hippo Eats Dwarf is better: "We live in a hippo-eats-dwarf world." And what about…
Posted: Wed Aug 16, 2006.   Comments (15)

Did Einstein Consider Geography More Difficult Than Physics? — Status: Hoax The following quotation is widely attributed to Albert Einstein: "As a young man, my fondest dream was to become a geographer. However, while working in the Customs Office, I thought deeply about the matter and concluded that it was far too difficult a subject. With some reluctance, I then turned to physics as an alternative." Did he ever say it? No. Nor did he ever work in the Customs Office. (He worked in the Patent Office.) In an article in the Toronto Star, Sharon…
Posted: Tue Jul 25, 2006.   Comments (7)

Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo — Status: Linguistic puzzle Check out these parsing challenges over at linguistlist.org. It took me a good 15 or 20 minutes to figure out why they make sense. (Though I'm sure some people will figure them out immediately.) The first one is this sentence: Dogs dogs dog dog dogs. It's a legitimate english sentence. To figure out how this is so, it helps to compare it to the sentence: Cats dogs chase catch mice. (They both share the same structure.) The linguist list folks then point out…
Posted: Sat Jul 22, 2006.   Comments (33)


Woman Claims To Be Descendant of Jesus Christ (And Gets Huge Book Deal) — Status: Clever marketing scheme Kathleen McGowan claims to be a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. That belief would make her no different than all the other people in this world suffering from delusions of grandeur, except that she's managed to leverage her extraordinary claim of ancestry into a major book deal. Simon & Schuster will soon be publishing her novel, The Expected One, with a print-run of 250,000 copies. The book is a loose fictionalization of her claim. She…
Posted: Fri Jul 21, 2006.   Comments (26)

Wraith Picket Experiment — Status: Literary Hoax The Weekend Australian recently announced the results of a literary experiment. They took chapter three of celebrated Australian writer Patrick White's novel The Eye of the Storm, changed its title to The Eye of the Cyclone, changed the names of the characters in it, and changed the name of the author to Wraith Picket (an anagram of Patrick White). Then they submitted this to twelve Australian publishers. Ten of them rejected it, and two never responded. One…
Posted: Wed Jul 19, 2006.   Comments (8)

Article About Plagiarism Plagiarized — Status: Purposeful plagiarism A hoax? A ploy? A gimmick? I'm not sure what to call this. Check out this piece by David Edelstein on plagiarism. Now read this, which reveals that Edelstein's piece on plagiarism was, except for the first and last lines, entirely plagiarized from other sources. Very clever! Seriously -- that's pretty neat. Very meta. (This post was plagiarized from Penguins on the Equator... and thanks to Joe Littrell for the heads up about the New York Magazine piece.)
Posted: Tue May 09, 2006.   Comments (5)

Did Idaho Get Its Name As A Result Of A Hoax? — Status: Undetermined Following a post about how California got its name, Boing Boing added an interesting reader comment alleging that Idaho got its name because of a hoax: "When a name was being selected for new territory, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested 'Idaho,' which he claimed was a Native American term meaning 'gem of the mountains'. It was later revealed Willing had made up the name himself, and the original Idaho territory was re-named Colorado because of it.…
Posted: Wed Apr 26, 2006.   Comments (11)

JT Leroy: The Movie — Status: Movie planned about a recent hoax Variety reports that the JT Leroy hoax is already heading to the big screen. The Weinstein Company has committed to making a film about Laura Albert's elaborate deception. (Laura Albert was the woman who invented the JT Leroy character.) The time between the hoax being exposed and a movie deal about it being inked seems to have occurred incredibly fast. What is it... a month or two since the hoax was confirmed? The dust has barely settled. I…
Posted: Thu Mar 09, 2006.   Comments (6)

Vietnam Deems Grapefruit Site Too Cocky — Status: True The internet is full of many unfortunate urls that can be read in two ways. Some of the urls intentionally have double meanings, some don't. For instance, viagrafix.com (via grafix / viagra fix) was an unintentional oversight, but powergenitalia.com (powergen italia / power genitalia) was a deliberate joke, as is penisland.net. Apparently Vietnamese sites are prone to the same problem. For which reason, Vietnamese regulators have rejected the website name www.buoi.com.vn.
Posted: Thu Feb 16, 2006.   Comments (5)

Comic Book Urban Legends — The Comics Should Be Good blog is creating a database of comic book urban legends. I don't recognize all the names and characters referred to, but it makes for interesting reading anyway. Here's a few samples (full explanations for all of these at Comics Should Be Good): Wolverine's costume was patterned in part on the uniforms of the Michigan Wolverines football team. (False) Joker was originally killed off in his SECOND appearance! (True) Wolverine was initially intended to be a…
Posted: Mon Feb 13, 2006.   Comments (7)

Knoop Confesses JT Leroy Was a Hoax — Status: Final nail in coffin of JT Leroy Just in case there was anyone who still doubted that JT Leroy was a hoax, the deception has finally been admitted to by an insider, Geoffrey Knoop. Knoop was the partner of Laura Albert, the woman who (it can now definitely be said) wrote all of JT Leroy's books. The face of JT Leroy, whenever Leroy made any public appearances, was Savannah Knoop, Geoffrey's half-sister. Geoffrey Knoop has said: "The jig is up... I do want to apologize to people…
Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2006.   Comments (2)

Nasdijj, Native-American Memoirist — Status: Phony Here we go again. Another memoirist has been unmasked as a phony. This time it's Nasdijj, celebrated Native-American author of autobiographical works such as The Blood Runs Like A River Through My Dreams and The Boy and the Dog Are Sleeping. Turns out he ain't Native American, unless by Native American one means white anglo-saxon protestant. His real identity seems to be that of Tim Barrus, who grew up in a middle-class community in Lansing, Michigan. As Barrus, he was a…
Posted: Thu Jan 26, 2006.   Comments (5)

Cremain Printing — Status: True Two weeks ago a lot of people were linking to a story about books bound in human skin that can be found in many libraries, including the rare book libraries at Brown and Harvard. This is, apparently, quite true. Often the books are old medical works, with the skin coming from patients or paupers whose bodies were bought for research. The most gruesome book, owned by the Boston Athenaeum, is an 1837 copy of the memoirs of the highwayman George Walton, bound in his own skin.
Posted: Tue Jan 24, 2006.   Comments (15)

MagicSHELF — Status: It's a kind of magic trick (though it really will hold up your books) Linkydinky.com is offering a product called the magicSHELF. Kathy Johnston emailed me to ask: "Is this for real? I can't tell how it works." Unfortunately, I don't yet have a definitive answer. The magicSHELF has stumped me. Pictures of the magicSHELF show books floating against a wall as if by magic, with no visible means of support. As the site says, "magicSHELF floats your books in the air, docking to…
Posted: Thu Jan 19, 2006.   Comments (38)

Remembering The Plumber From Plympton — Status: Marking an anniversary in hoax history The million little biographical lies of James Frey have been getting all the attention in the press this week, but as the Devon Western Morning News reminds us, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of a memoir whose lies were far greater: The Third Eye by T. Lobsang Rampa (aka the Plumber from Plympton). Rampa claimed to have grown up in Tibet (born into a wealthy Tibetan family), to have studied in Lhasa to become a…
Posted: Fri Jan 13, 2006.   Comments (5)

James Frey, Fiction Writer? — Status: Undetermined (but the Smoking Gun presents a convincing argument) It seems to be quite the week for literary hoaxes. First there were the new revelations in the JT LeRoy case, and now The Smoking Gun is now accusing author James Frey of inventing many of the details in his autobiographical novel, A Million Little Pieces. The book tells the story of Frey's past as a drug-addict and criminal. But the Smoking Gun alleges that, "The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews…
Posted: Tue Jan 10, 2006.   Comments (14)

J.T. LeRoy: An Update — Status: Evidence is mounting that he's a hoax Last October I posted about the writer JT LeRoy, and the suspicion that he was an elaborate hoax: that his books had actually been written by a woman named Laura Albert, and that the person who appeared in public as LeRoy was an actor. Today the New York Times has revealed more evidence that seems to confirm this theory. The person who has been appearing in public as LeRoy seems to be Savannah Knoop, the half sister of Geoffrey Knoop (who's…
Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2006.   Comments (5)

Truthiness — Status: New word The American Dialect Society has announced its words of the year for 2005 (links to a pdf file). A number of them are relevant to the study of hoaxes. For instance, the word of the year is Truthiness: truthiness: the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. I suppose the opposite of truthiness would be hoaxiness. A few of the other words of the year include: flee-ancée: runaway bride…
Posted: Mon Jan 09, 2006.   Comments (8)

Publishers Reject Booker Prize Winners — Status: Publishers hoaxed Convinced that the publishing industry can no longer recognize quality literature when they see it, the Sunday Times devised an experiment to test their theory. They submitted opening chapters of books by V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton to twenty publishers and agents. The results: None appears to have recognised them as Booker prizewinners from the 1970s that were lauded as British novel writing at its best. Of the 21 replies, all but one were rejections.…
Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2006.   Comments (7)

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