Know Your Mountweazels

The New Yorker has an amusing little piece about the quest to identify the fake entry in the recently published second edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary (NOAD).

"It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright," says Richard Steins, one of the editors of the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia. The idea was that if your planted entry showed up in some other reference work without attribution, you knew your work had been lifted.

The tradition has been revived and adopted by NOAD; when word leaked out that the new edition contained a fake entry starting with "e," a team of word sleuths were hot on the trail. They narrowed the field of suspects from 3,128 to six, then zeroed in on the culprit.

Read all about how one investigator and nine lexicographical authorities found their Mountweazel.

(Thanks to A Capital Idea for the pointer.)


Will Shortz is a lexicographical expert? I'm sure he knows an enormous amount about words -- puzzle people always do -- but that does not a lexicographical expert make. On the other hand, the "pseudodictionary" guy didn't inspire reams of confidence, either.

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