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10 Hoax Definitions, Paper Towns, and Other Things That Don’t Exist

Facts are hard to copyright—impossible, actually. This is problematic for people who deal in information; any reference material is factual, and therefore difficult to protect from dirty, lying thieves who want to steal your work. That’s where fictitious entries come in: facts become very easy to copyright when they aren’t true. These are people, places and things that exist only on paper, solely to thwart would-be info burglars.

1. Lillian Virginia Mountweazel

The mythical Ms. Mountweazel was a photographer and fountain designer. Her book, Flags Up!, was purportedly an unmatched collection of rural American mailbox photography. Unfortunately, she was killed in 1973 in an explosion, while on assignment for the equally nonexistent Combustibles magazine. Lillian Mountweazel’s life was a sham, created to protect the contents of the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia, but it wasn’t without its perks: her (fake) life would become the subject of an exhibit in Dublin, and her (fake) name would later serve as a neologism for fictitious entries, thanks to a New Yorker article about the next Mountweazel in this list...

2. Esquivalience

The second edition New Oxford American Dictionary was published early in 2005. Almost immediately afterward, a rumor leaked that the NOAD 2E contained a secretly made-up word which began with the letter e. A man with a lot of free time set about isolating the fictitious entry from the 3,128 e-words, using a combination of careful cross-referencing and probably-unhealthy obsession. He narrowed the options to six words: earth loop, EGD, electrofish, ELSS, esquivalience and eurocreep. Of a group of nine lexicographers, six pegged esquivalience as the fraud. This was confirmed by the dictionary’s editor-in-chief, Erin McKean, who said, “Its inherent fakeitude is fairly obvious.” (Fakeitude does not appear in the NOAD 2E.)

3. Zzxjoanw

Rupert Hughes’ Music Lovers’ Encyclopedia of 1903 included the word zzxjoanw, defined as “a Maori word for ‘drum.’” The entry persisted through subsequent editions, well into the 1950s. It was later proved a hoax when someone noticed that there are no Z, X, or J in the Maori language. If you’re wondering, zzxjoanw is pronounced just how it looks.

4. Dog of Norway

The Golden Turkey Awards is a weird 1980s catalogue of obscure and bad films, wherein the authors award movies of poor quality a Golden Turkey. (It’s like a Razzie, only even less prestigious.)

The authors, film critic Michael Medved and his brother Harry, revealed that one entry was a complete hoax, and then challenged readers to discover which movie never actually existed. This time, no cross-references or obsessive searches were necessary: the imaginary film, Dog of Norway, starred "Muki the Wonder Dog"... the same dog featured on the cover of the book with the authors. (That dog’s name was Muki, too.)

5. Agloe, NY

The town of Agloe, New York, was invented by map makers, but the practice of inserting fictional towns, roads, rivers or other geographical has been in place nearly as long as cartography itself. The weird thing that happened with Agloe, though, doesn’t really ever happen: it became a real place. The Agloe General Store was built at its fictional location, prompting the (real) county administrator to declare Agloe an actual town. (Paper Towns by John Green is partially set in Agloe, and one character has a dog named Myrna Mountweazel.)

6 & 7. "The Song of Love" and The Cysterz

Joel Whitburn created a book series based on the Billboard music charts. To throw potential copycats, Whitburn’s pop chart compilations say that, for the week ending December 26, 1955, Ralph Marterie's "The Song of Love" peaked at #84. Sad news for Ralph Marterie, who was probably shooting for a single-digit rank, but it was all okay, because Billboard Magazine didn’t even issue a list that week, and “The Song of Love” was never recorded by Marterie.

In Whitburn’s rock charts, the song "Drag You Down" by The Cysterz makes an appearance, though neither the group nor the song ever did in real life.

8 & 9. Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio

The official state map of Michigan from 1978 includes a pair of hoax entries designed to irk every football fan in Ohio. The chairman of the State Highway Commission (and Michigan alumnus) had Beatosu and Goblu (“Beat OSU!” and “Go Blue!” to Michigan fans) inserted in the Ohio side of the Michigan-Ohio border. They were removed from later editions, but Goblu was briefly of interest again later when it was revealed that Road Pig from G.I. Joe was born there.

10. Philip

In the 1970s, Fred L. Worth began publishing a series of trivia encyclopedias, imaginatively titled The Trivia Encyclopedia, The Complete Unabridged Super Trivia Encyclopedia, and Super Trivia volumes I and II. In order to protect his stake in the trivia encyclopedia market (which was not yet booming), Worth inserted a single entirely false “fact.”

In 1984, Trivial Pursuit hit the market and sold like gangbusters. Unfortunately, the company was about to get sued for a lot more than the $256 million they raked in that first year. Why? Because one answer on the game’s cards was known to only one person—Fred L. Worth, who’d fabricated it years earlier:

The card said the answer was Philip, which was false. In fact, Columbo's name was never revealed, a fact that's been confirmed by both the cast and writers of the show. (Unless you believe this screenshot of Columbo's badge has the answer.) Worth’s suit fingered the creators of the game as well as their distributors; aside from the fictitious entry, he showed that Trivial Pursuit’s creators had lifted his work so completely that the game even included his typos and misspelled words. Trivial Pursuit eventually admitted that they had, in fact, stolen Worth's work for the game—but they had also stolen trivia from a lot of other places, too, which they defended as "doing research."

The case was thrown out before going to trial on the grounds that Trivial Pursuit was “substantially different” from Super Trivia. Worth and his attorneys appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but to no avail.

Because of Trivial Pursuit’s persistent popularity (and more than a few original versions that are still in play), some shady-looking “fun fact” sites continue to insist that Columbo’s first name was, in fact, Philip.

Image credits: FactFixx, Nerdfighters, and Trivia Hall of Fame.

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This Just In
How Much Does a Missing Comma Cost? For One Dairy in Maine, $5 Million
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Copy editors aren’t the only ones who should respect the value of the Oxford comma. Since 2014, a dairy company in Portland, Maine has been embroiled in a lawsuit whose success or failure hinged on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law. The suit is finally over, as The New York Times reports, and die-hard Oxford comma-lovers won (as did the delivery drivers who brought the suit).

The drivers’ class action lawsuit claimed that Oakhurst Dairy owed them years in back pay for overtime that the company argues they did not qualify for under state law. The law reads that employees in the following fields do not qualify for the time-and-a-half overtime pay that other workers are eligible for if they work more than 40 hours a week:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish product; and

(3) Perishable foods

Notice that it says the “packing for shipment or distribution” and not “packing for shipment, or distribution of.” This raised a legal question: Should dairy distributors get overtime if they didn’t pack and distribute the product?

The case eventually made its way to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled that the lack of comma made the law ambiguous enough to qualify the drivers for their overtime pay, overturning the lower court’s verdict that the state legislature clearly intended for distribution to be part of the exemption list on its own.

In early February, the company agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, ending the lawsuit—and, sadly, preventing us from ever hearing the Supreme Court’s opinions on the Oxford comma.

Future delivery drivers for the dairy won’t be so lucky. Since the comma kerfuffle began, the Maine legislature has rewritten the statute. Instead of embracing the Oxford comma, though—as we at Mental Floss would recommend—lawmakers decided to double down on their semicolons. It now reads:

The canning; processing; preserving; freezing; drying; marketing; storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.

Come on, guys. What do you have against the serial comma?

[h/t The New York Times]

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environment
California's Proposed Straw Ban Won't Actually Threaten Restaurant Employees With Jail Time
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Drinking straws are easy to find at eateries, but not so much in recycling bins. To curb pollution, California lawmaker Ian Calderon introduced a bill in January that would reduce plastic straw use in restaurants. Thanks to the measure's wording, it caused an uproar, Munchies reports. As it currently reads, restaurant employees would face $1000 fines or jail sentences of up to six months if they provide a straw to a customer unasked.

Calderon, the majority leader of the California State Assembly, says that the bill wasn’t meant to be so harsh. He chalked its language up to miscommunication, explaining to The Washington Post that the California Office of Legislative Counsel drafted the bill into a state health code section with jail penalties. They didn’t have time to fix it, and Calderon planned to amend the bill’s wording before it reached a committee. (He still intends to remove its criminal penalties.)

Backlash aside (one Republican politician called for people to mail Calderon their straws), Calderon simply wanted to introduce a measure that required sit-down restaurants to adhere to a straws-upon-request policy. Fast-food restaurants, cafés, and delis wouldn’t have to adhere to the guideline.

“We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon said in a statement. “AB 1884 is not ban on plastic straws. It is a small step towards curbing our reliance on these convenience products, which will hopefully contribute to a change in consumer attitudes and usage.”

Straws play a small—yet undeniable—part in our world’s ever-growing plastic waste problem. They typically wind up in landfills, and can end up in the ocean if proper disposal methods aren’t followed. This harms marine life, as fish and other creatures can mistake bits of broken-down straws for food.

Cities in California, including Manhattan Beach, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Cruz, have implemented their own versions of a straw ban. Berkeley and Los Angeles might soon follow suit, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. As for Calderon’s bill: It still needs to be revised, voted on, and approved. So nothing’s set in stone (or plastic) for now.

[h/t Munchies]

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