Mental Floss

Is Everything I Read in the Dictionary True?

Amanda Green
the mag

They seem like the ultimate authorities, but to prevent plagiarism from the competition, some dictionaries insert fake entries. If two contain the same made-up word, the originator can accuse the other of copyright infringement. The practice is also common in encyclopedias. The traps are called “Mountweazels,” named for a phony entry in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia. (Lillian Virginia Mountweazel was a fictitious person who photographed rural mailboxes. She died in an explosion while on assignment for the also-fake Combustibles Magazine.) But the practice doesn’t hold for all reference books. In the 1980s, Fred L. Worth, author of The Trivia Encyclopedia, added a fictitious entry about the TV detective Columbo (stating that his first name was Philip). When the fact appeared in Trivial Pursuit, Worth filed a $300 million lawsuit. The game’s attorney argued that facts aren’t copyrightable, and the case was tossed out.